When Tom Vilsack becomes the Obama administration’s Secretary of Agriculture, in all likelihood right after next week’s inauguration of the new president, he immediately will have to deal with issues of great import to grain-based foods. Just like the new president, the new agriculture secretary has a massive challenge in developing budget proposals for the 2009-10 fiscal year that must be submitted to Congress in February. In the case of the U.S.D.A. budget, hardly anything is more important than the way the new secretary handles his and the Obama commitment to food security and renewable energy. In the opinion of many, these are opposing goals.

Mr. Vilsack brings to the Cabinet his experience as two-term governor of Iowa. Yet, as committed as he is to rural growth by introducing cutting-edge technology, he will find, like everyone in the new administration, that budgetary restraints along with economic recovery have the upper hand in federal spending. If the poor economy makes food stamps and similar relief programs more urgent than ever, the leeway provided by the U.S.D.A. budget for innovation seems extremely limited.

Grain-based foods is well aware of the pressures created by what threatens to be a $1 trillion-plus deficit in the current fiscal year, which is more than double last year’s record $455 billion shortfall. When the president-elect declares, "We have to get a handle on this deficit," the implications are as great for programs affecting this industry as they are for everyone else.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, January 13, 2008, starting on Page 4. Click

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