Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told media members from throughout the country that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is committed to advocating for a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers in the next farm bill, and to helping producers affected by natural disasters this year.

Vilsack spoke about the challenges faced by agriculture following a number of "unique and significant" disasters this year, including wildfires in the Southwest, and tornadoes, drought, and flooding in other areas of the country.  In the wake of these events, Vilsack announced that producers have  received $693 million in indemnity payments to help recover from these disasters, including more than $520 million to those affected by drought, and $88 million to those affected by flooding.  

The secretary noted that as Congress convenes after the August recess, it will address federal spending cuts as part of the debt deal.  "Regardless of the fiscal constraints, we must maintain an adequate safety net for agriculture, have effective risk management tools available for producers and continue to look for opportunities to increase gainful employment in rural America," the secretary said.

Vilsack argued that the barrage of negative news about the debt and the economy overshadows the fact that American agriculture is a bright spot -- providing one in 12 jobs nationwide as well as food for the world.  "While other countries may lend the United States money, we provide their food."

The secretary also urged congressional action of pending free trade agreements, which he said could increase American agricultural exports by $1.9 billion annually.