By TOM VILSACK
For the Capital Press
At the beginning of this New Year, we at USDA are redoubling our efforts to achieve an adequate, defensible safety net for producers, more economic opportunity through the biobased economy, safe and nutritious food for Americans, robust efforts to carry out research and greater conservation of our natural resources.
To further our efforts in these areas, I hope to work with Congress this year to secure passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.
One very important part of a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is to provide a safety net for America's producers, who face a great deal of uncertainty in their work -- both from Mother Nature and market prices. Historically, the Farm Bill authorizes USDA to provide disaster assistance for producers and step in with help when they face volatile markets.
For example, prior to the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill disaster programs, USDA was able to provide more than 400,000 disaster payments totaling more than $4 billion in assistance. In fact, had the programs not previously expired, we would have been able to provide an estimated $500 million in additional help for drought-impacted livestock producers in 2012.
This safety net assistance helps our farmers and ranchers focus on growing more for our nation -- and it ensures that farm families have somewhere to turn when the going is especially tough.
But the importance of these programs doesn't stop at the edge of the farm field. A strong agriculture sector impacts every American. American agriculture provides more than 80 percent of our food supply here at home.
Our prosperity enables the U.S. to export billions of dollars worth of agricultural products around the world, supporting more than 1 million jobs.
Our productivity means that American families pay less for their food at the grocery store than the people of any developed nation.
One in 12 jobs is related to agriculture -- including in our biggest cities. When the business of agriculture is thriving, more jobs are created in transportation, packaging, processing and sales. And when farmers and ranchers are successful, they invest in their operation, spurring manufacturing and greater business opportunity.
At USDA we are committed to doing everything we can to support a thriving agriculture sector. Unfortunately, without a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, it's tougher to provide a smart and defensible safety net. This isn't just critical for farmers -- it's important for every American.
That's why I'll continue to work with Congress over the coming year to secure a five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will give our producers the tools they need to grow and thrive.
Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.