Vilsack lays out priorities, extends comment period

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack earlier this week said he will extend the comment period for the 2008 Farm Bill Farm Program Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility rulemaking process by 60 days, a move he said will allow additional farmers and other interested parties time to comment.

Mr. Vilsack said the extension does not signal that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be modifying the rules for the 2009 crop year, but does keep in step with President Barack Obama’s recent pledge to make government more transparent, inclusive, and collaborative.

"I would like to pursue an extended comment period so that more farmers and other individuals can participate in this rulemaking process," Mr. Vilsack said. "I’m particularly interested in suggestions that would help the department target payments to farmers who really need them and ensure that payments are not being provided to ineligible parties for future crop years."

Mr. Vilsack also announced that the U.S.D.A. does not plan to implement a proposal developed by the previous administration that would have cut more than $3 million from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, a program that promotes the growth of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Other priorities addressed by Mr. Vilsack included combating childhood obesity and enhancing health and nutrition; advancing research and development and pursuing opportunities to support the development of biofuels, wind power, and other renewable energy sources; making progress on major environmental challenges, including climate change; and moving quickly on the major challenges facing the department.

"We need to do a better job of responding to challenges, apologizing for mistakes when we make them, empowering our employees to make decisions and drive change, and emphasizing a transparent and inclusive style of governing," he said.

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