Tom Vilsack: Polar vortex relief 'won’t happen until we have a farm bill'

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

From Nebraska to the mid-Atlantic, people are finding themselves happy this morning for temperatures only the 20s after the Arctic craziness of recent days. One weather forecaster who does longer range forecasting for industries told us that he thinks it's likely that more polar blasts will come before the first green shoots of spring. For farmers, this has been a tough two weeks. One man who knows that is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He joined Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio to discuss the impact of the polar vortex on agriculture.

“I am deeply concerned about livestock because subzero weather creates very serious difficulties for livestock. It sort of underscores the necessity of having programs in place at USDA to provide financial assistance to those producers who are negatively impacted by the weather,” Vilsack said.

However, Vilsack said Congress still hasn’t come up with a farm bill -- which could provide the tools needed to deal with the weather storm.

“The only thing we could do is to provide disaster assistance loans to producers. But those aren’t particularly helpful at a time when you’re faced with a total loss or a significant loss,” Vilsack said. “The reality is that we could help them with the disaster programs that were in place a couple of years ago, but to do that, they have to be restored, and that won’t happen until we have a farm bill.”

Vilsack also addressed the potential impact on consumer food prices.

“Farming is obviously a risky business. If you don’t reduce the risk, then producers will go out of business, will begin to depend on people outside the United tates for the production of our food, which creates an additional risk and potentially an additional cost to consumers,” Vilsack said. “We have great access and we have great affordability in large part because we keep people in the business of farming. And that’s why a farm bill is important not just to producers, but also to consumers.” 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio


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