As the drought continues today, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies are doing all we can to help farmers, ranchers and communities who have been impacted.
Unfortunately, our tools are limited. Due to inaction by Congress, many parts of the 2008 Farm Bill expired Oct. 1, and other aspects of the law will expire in the coming months.
This brings tremendous uncertainty for rural families – particularly livestock producers who have lost access to disaster programs, and dairy producers who no longer have access to dairy support programs.
The lack of a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill also limits USDA from continuing our record investments in homegrown American energy. Since 2009 USDA has worked hard to ensure that rural America plays a key role in our nation’s energy strategy.
For example, we’ve invested in more than 330 bioenergy projects, strengthening biofuels production across America. Ethanol alone supports nearly 400,000 American jobs, while reducing the price of gas by more than one dollar per gallon for American families.
We’ve helped grow America’s capacity for creating advanced biofuels from non-food, non-feed sources. Since 2009 USDA has invested in historic efforts to create nine new, advanced biofuels refineries. Meanwhile, we have added new income sources for farmers – providing incentives to grow advanced feedstocks on nearly 60,000 acres.
Finally, USDA has undertaken groundbreaking research that’s necessary to expand our homegrown energy capacity.
Last year we established five research centers across America to enhance research and coordination in the development of new biofuels technologies. Just last week, USDA announced a sixth such effort, providing support for researchers across the northeast United States to undertake additional biofuels research.
USDA has invested more than $320 million to accelerate research into the new technologies associated with advanced biofuels. And in partnership with the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy, we are making an historic investment of more than $510 million to develop advanced biofuels for military ships and aircraft. In fact, just recently, ships and aircraft of the Navy’s “Great Green Fleet” conducted operations off the coast of Hawaii using advanced marine and aviation biofuels.
We’re proud of where we stand today. In 2011 America imported about 45 percent of our oil from foreign countries – down from more than 60 percent in 2005. Our nation’s growing biofuels industry played a key role in that progress.
But there’s much left to be done. I know that given the tools to succeed, USDA can continue to bring down gas prices for families. We can further strengthen America’s energy security. And we can support more good jobs in our small towns and rural communities.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the USDA.