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The Changeover: Farms, Food, Forests, Fuel

Just three weeks into his new job, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joins us Monday to talk farm, food, and forests and take your questions. The former governor of Iowa enjoyed a warm reception in the Senate and was confirmed on Inaguration Day. Good thing he got an early start - there’s plenty from salmonella to employee scandals keeping him busy already.

Big issues loom on the horizon too. The US Department of Agriculture oversees forestry and food saftey as well as farming. Biofuels, subsidies, food labels, trade - all that and more come under the umbrella of Ag. Sustainable food writer Michael Pollan wanted to rename USDA the Department of Food. What do you want Vilsack’s Ag Department to do?

He takes office as the latest national Census of Agriculture shows a four percent increase in the number of farms, with very large and very small farms doing better than medium sized operations. Oregon shows different trends though, with a four percent drop in the number of farms and an increase in the number of farmers doing something else as their primary occupation. 

One of Secretary Vilsack’s biggest supporters, Senate Ag Committee Chair (and fellow Iowan) Tom Harkin, thinks the USDA deserves more attention. As he announced on Vilsack’s confirmation:

“No department touches every American every day as closely and as intimately as the Department of Agriculture. The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the food safety programs, things happen to our kids in school, what they eat; all of this in the Department of Agriculture.”

Secretary Vilsack’s appointment was met with both disappointment and praise. By some accounts, organic producers are split. Critics focus on his support for GMOs and ethanol. But a long time Vilsack watcher found him ready for reform. And in an interview this week Vilsack said his department’s constituents are many, including the most basic: people who eat.

Well, that’s everybody. What do you want from the new head of the USDA? What would you like to ask him? If you’re a farmer or a forester, if you work with livestock, biofuels, food safety or anything else the USDA oversees, share your experience and what you want now.

(Note: forest management is a big enough issue that we’ll be devoting a whole show to the new administration’s forestry priorities in the coming weeks. We’ll probably will spend less time on it this hour.)

agriculture biofuel farming food tom vilsack

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