WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced he will extend the comment period for the 2008 Farm Bill Farm Program Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility rulemaking process.
Vilsack discussed his priorities as Secretary of Agriculture during a teleconference call today with agriculture and other reporters across the country and said that as part of the regulatory review process outlined by the White House and Office of Management and Budget, he is directing the Department to extend the comment period for the payment limits rule for an additional 60 days.
"Let's be clear -- in no way is this move a signal that we will modify the rules for the 2009 crop year," Vilsack said. "Sign-up has begun, and it's important that clear and consistent rules remain in place so that producers can prepare for the crop year and manage their risk appropriately."
To date, USDA has only received seven comments on the payment limits rule and Vilsack says that by extending the comment period additional farmers and other interested parties will have the opportunity to comment.
"In keeping with President 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," he 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."
Vilsack also announced that the Department 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 popular program that promotes the growth of healthy fruits and vegetables.
Priorities Vilsack discussed with reporters include:
Vilsack indicated that it is important that we appropriately budget for wildfires so that the Forest Service has the resources it needs for both wildfires and its other missions.
Vilsack also said he intends to move quickly on the major challenges facing the Department -- modernizing USDA's computer systems and finally closing the sad chapter of the Department's struggle with civil rights.
"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."