USDA boss talks ethanol, energy and H1N1

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says there’s “understandable” concern among the nation’s farmers about the energy bill that’s making its way through congress, but Vilsack says farmers should embrace the change the bill may bring.

“I think that this bill, when it’s all said and done, it’s going to be beneficial to agriculture,” Vilsack says. “There are tremendous opportunities for agriculture in helping offset carbon and greenhouse gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere and, when it’s structured right, I think agriculture will come out in good shape.”

Vilsack says efforts are underway at the U.S.D.A. on a variety of fronts, including a plan to raise the standard amount of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent. “We’re hopeful that the E.P.A. takes a look at that and concludes that that can be done and ought to be done. That would certainly be a very good message and a good shot in the arm for the industry, but it can’t stop there,” Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Nebraska Radio Network.

“We have to take a look at the credit needs of the industry and try to figure out if the U.S.D.A. can provide some assistance and some help and also we have to continue working with the car manufacturers and the consumers to build additional markets for our ethanol production.” Nebraska is the nation’s number-two ethanol producer.

On another front, Vilsack has been involved in an “ongoing conversation” with the U.S. trade representative who’s trying to get countries to reverse bans on U.S. pork imports following the recent scare involving H1N1 flu. Vilsack met personally with the trade representative twice last week to talk about the situation.

“A ban on pork because of the H1N1 is not scientifically valid. It’s not consistently with international trade regulations,” Vilsack said. “They’ve been successful on the part of a number of countries. We still have a ways to go with some of our major trading partners but we’re going to continue to send that message in the hopes that those barriers can be broken down.” Sixteen countries continue to restrict U.S. pork imports.