U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Discusses Broadband and Other Current IssuesTue, 27 Jul 2021 16:35:36 CDT
With several agricultural issues up for discussion, rural broadband is one that makes it way to the top and affects all rural citizens.
Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays spoke with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who said money is being allocated with hopes of improving this issue.
Vilsack said the private sector cannot solely improve broadband in rural areas and communities, it will take government intervention and support.
What is currently being considered by a bipartisan group of senators is a plan that would provide sufficient resources to able to expand broadband to all four corners of the country, especially those rural and remote areas, Vilsack said.
This would allow all people access to important technology, he added.
“It should not be that you have to live in a certain zip code to be able to utilize the broadband to expand your business, to tap into additional markets, to be able to provide opportunities for distance learning and telemedicine,” Vilsack said. “Rural communities ought to have that same opportunity.”
Vilsack said he hopes this improves not just broadband, but infrastructure across the country.
This is the time and opportunity to make America far more competitive across a variety of facets by investing in our infrastructure, Vilsack said.
A key to making this initiative a reality is adequate resources, Vilsack said. The plan currently being considered would have roughly $60 billion made available to a variety of entities within the federal government that deal with broadband issues, he added.
This would provide the opportunity to leverage those resources with the private sector, Vilsack that, who would then use those resources to expand access and operate a system that is not only operating broadband, but one of high-performing and efficient function.
Vilsack said the USDA Reconnect Program works to improve the quality of broadband service, but it is done in increments of $2 billion to $3 billion a year. Therefore, taking extensive time, he added.
“This is why it is important to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill through the Senate, into the House, then hopefully to the President’s desk,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack added there is talk about making this a multi-agency plan, since it is an “all hands on deck” effort. This would require cooperation and ultimately resources, thus the importance of making this bill a reality rather than a mere idea, he said.
The proposed improvements are not only important for quality of life but to creating good paying jobs and improving farm income, Vilsack said.
Another frequently discussed topic where progress is hoped to be made is that of providing opportunities for small-to-medium-sized meat processors to become and remain viable.
Vilsack said the USDA will be active and engaged in these efforts, and has done so through their most recent announcements.
One recent announcement for already-existing small meat processors made $55 million available and grants up to $200,000 for already-existing facilities to be able to modernize facilities with hopes of eventually expanding to regional markets.
A bond was also created to reduce the cost of inspection fees for small and very small facilities, he added.
This would aid in increasing the resiliency and profitability of our food system, Vilsack said.
The reality of the situation is we need more processing capacity, which is why the $500 million grant, loan, and guarantee was announced by USDA, Vilsack said.
This is to provide the capital and incentive, particularly for producer-owned groups, to create their own processing opportunities, he said.
“We know there is interest, demand and need for more competitive markets,” Vilsack said, “but we also know there are challenges with this.”
The access to capital, knowledgeable lenders and equipment costs are some of the most concerning, Vilsack said.
He said he hopes this provides enough assistance to spur action and progress in this area.
Another challenge is seeing the small processors through and ensuring their profitability, Vilsack said.
To combat this, as part of the American Rescue Plan, there are resources available to create a more resilient supply chain through assistance and market opportunities.
As part of the USDA Emergency Food Program, Vilsack said they are figuring out how to do business with these small processing facilities and create a more diverse distribution and food system.
“There are ways we can use not only our resources, but also our procurement powers to help support such processing facilities,” Vilsack said.
Also discussed was the President’s plan to update the Packers and Stockyards Act.
Vilsack said the commitment remains strong, but there is work to be done in terms of defining the scope of practice of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
He added they are looking for ways to clarify and form a strong definition to what is an unfair and in discriminatory practice so it is easier for folks to point out unfair practices.
“Steps are going to be taken, and we will be working on those activities this year,” Vilsack said. “We hope to see progress toward the end of 2021 and into early 2022.”
To hear Ron’s complete conversation with Tom Vilsack, click or tap below.
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