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tv   Agriculture Secretary on Cooperatives  CSPAN  October 11, 2021 4:01pm-4:43pm EDT

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♪ >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we are funded by these companies and more including wow. >> speed, reliability, and choice. answer the great internet. >> wow supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers. giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> agricultural secretary discusses the impacts of cooperatives on the farm economy. from the national press club in washington dc, this is about 40 minutes.
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good morning, please come in and find your seats. we will begin the program. please welcome your host to the podium. [applause] good morning, everyone. from here in washington dc, at the national press club, welcome
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everyone here in person. this is the final day of the 2021 cooperative impact conference. for the hundreds of folks on the live streams as well. to our audience, this is a really exciting conversation. we have been looking for to this. i will just take a moment to introduce the gentleman and bring them to the stage. i look forward to this important conversation about how cooperatives can be a critical strategy and helping build back the economy, help build back a more inclusive economy for everyone. the first person i will bring to the stage is the executive director of the federation of southern cooperatives.
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news also a long-time board member for -- inclusive. he has a long career in international cooperative development. his experience includes smith and project about meant, management and marketing. he has worked as a small banishment -- small business consultant and international project director and director of field operations, among many other leaders --leadership positions. next, i would like to bring to the stage secretary tom vilsack, thank you so much for being here. he is -- the community.
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there is little introduction needed. [laughs] the last thing i will say it, i have gotten to work with both of these and for both of these gentlemen in the last 15 years, their shared commitment to communities and to write access to communities is unmatched by anyone i have come across. i am looking forward to this conversation. pinky for being here. [applause] -- thank you for being here. [applause] >> thank you. thank you for agreeing to sit down with me today. i want to thank inclusive and all the partners and sponsors who made this possible. thank you to this audience in the community in general. ghost in the room and those who are watching around the nation. thank you to the national press club.
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this is a historic day. i just saw a picture of martin luther king out there, he was in this room almost 60 years ago in 1962. one of the things we talk about, the civil rights movement and how the goals was for the realization of the american dream. i think that is important in this content. let me start this conversation by thinking you again. that is where we will start this conversation. you know me as the executive director and the federation is a 54-year-old one. it started as a cooperative movement. we have been longtime partners with the usda. i am also a board member of inclusive, the organization -- of our country.
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it is there where i begin in this conversation to engage with you around the federation and the and cpa that is represented here today. let me start by asking you a few questions. welcoming the secretary, thank you again. >> great to be with you. >> after a long time of the governor, state senator, smalltime member, you play a critical role in communities across the united states. were farmers access market, surviving the environment. it is a proven strategy to help communities and people with economic opportunity. now that the biden handed --
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biden-harris administration is at work, can you tell us about co-ops for into that vision? >> i would be happy to do that. good morning to all you. thank you for that introduction and the opportunity to be here today. very much appreciate being here with my friend, he has been a strong advocate for equity and a strong guide to us at usda. i start going to mass, at the beginning of every day. i started, at the beginning of covid, going online. today, the greeting had a today we had a meeting that said we either gather or scatter, that is what the cooperative movement is about, about us gathering for a common cause.
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it is no more important to gather than in rural economic development and equity issues. the reality is rural america represents about 15% of the country's population but 70% of its landmass. sometimes there is a tendency as you know to forget the importance of rural america. the place where most of the food is produced, a good deal of water is impacted, most of the feedstock for power comes from. and where there is a strong value system that recognizes the importance of giving back to the country, as reflected in the high percentage of folks in rural communities that go into service. it is an important place, but it is also a challenged place, whether it is persistent poverty, an aging population, a high level of uninsured for
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health care purposes, there are many challenges in rural places. i think there is a moment now at this point in time where there is an opportunity for rural america to do something great and something necessary for the country. that is to transition the economy from one that has been an extraction oriented economy were we take something from the land and convert it someplace else, add value someplace else, and then create opportunity someplace else -- took place today where we can create a circular economy, where what is taken from the ground is value added in rural america, creating jobs in rural america, and grading opportunity for us as a country to manage the climate crisis that we face. where do cooperatives fit in? we recently announced a climate
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smart partnership initiative which is designed to equip and finance large-scale demonstration and pilot projects where we can learn more about what agriculture and forestry practices can create, but results can develop from the right approach to land, and farming, and forestry. and in doing so, create data to create climate smart commodities which will be a value added commodity in the marketplace, and will allow farmers of all sizes to be able to participate in these demonstration projects, and qualify for ecosystem market credits, whether a carbon credit or wildlife credit, or whatever it would be. it is an opportunity to work with you and your cooperative, to encourage farmers of color to come together on a large-scale
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project, to provide the technical assistance and financial resource that will enable them to take risks and chances on their land without incurring costs, and then reap the economic benefit, and learn how to create these new climate smart commodities. the cooperative is the vehicle through which many of these pilots and demonstration projects can be essentially organized, because you have the capacity to aggregate. you have the power to bring people together, and you are trusted at the local level, which is important. one of the other issues we are focused on at usda is the issue of equity. no secret here, we have a lot of work to do to make sure usda is servicing those who are underserved. for those who have been discriminated against. co-ops have the opportunity to help us.
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the american rescue plan signed by president biden contains resources given to the department of agriculture to connect to underserved and historically distressed farmers, and provide them more technical assistance, provide assistance in terms of access to markets, and land access. at the cooperative movement is centered to be the technical assistance provider, to be the connector between ust programs and farmers. a trusted agent on the ground locally that understands where people are what people need, and can communicate at usda how a structured program provides technical assistance, how we can work with our procurement that we recently announced through an effort where historically we have taken this money and gone out to the market and dealt with
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large-scale distributors, bought lots of stuff and distributed them to food banks and school lunch programs. this time we took a billion dollars, and half of it needs to be a funnel to a regional or local distributor, which means better connection with local producers. $400 million of it needs to be provided to those who are historically underserved producers. it is an opportunity to create a new connection between usda through nutrition. cooperatives have the opportunity, whether equity or nutrition or climate -- we are not even talking about economic development -- there are enormous opportunities for connection. we have the resources to really make a difference and begin to turn the economy in a different direction.
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cornelius: you have set a lot, and i appreciate it. you talk about the common good, and that is what the cooperative community is about. there is also the tragedy, and you talk about individuals looking to incentivize themselves to the detriment of the common good. we see that now even with the american recovery plan, where there is reverse discrimination when talking about these programs that benefit all. the only way to resolve this, they talk about two things primarily, one that the cooperative will provide an agreement to have folks work together, but where the government intervenes and has regulations. it seems to be the heart of the issue.
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how do you see that moving forward and the cooperative community standing behind you? what should people know around the common good what you intend to do? sec. vilsack: the reality is, the common causes we ought to be interested to keep people on the land. and to have diversity in agriculture, and i mean in all of its definitions. we need large operations, small operations, midsized operations, organic producers, regular conventional production enterprises. we need farmers of color, we need white farmers, we need everybody to essentially figure out it is in our collective best interest if we have a diverse american agriculture. i have heard this phrase, they now recognize when we have a food secure nation, because we have producers producing this
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food we consume, that we have a more secure nation from a national security perspective. people need to recognize keeping people on the land making it so people, particularly those distressed, those who are challenged financially, that we figure out ways to help them get the technical assistance and access to programs that will help them, get market access. the pandemic has basically given us a window into our food system. the window, we basically have created an incredibly efficient system, amazingly efficient, but it has been consolidated. it has rewarded production and encouraged size and technology. what we learned during the pandemic, we also have to have a resilient system. resiliency comes from not just large and efficient, but
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capacity, from diversity, from local and regional strength. you cannot have local and regional strength if you have individual weakness. you have to understand with the cooperative movement, usda can work collaboratively to strengthen that and create multiple avenues for producers to access markets. they should not have to rely on a single market. we have seen in the processing world our livestock producers are really challenged. it is heartbreaking when you hear a cattle producer say, that he sold his cattle at $150 ahead loss, and he knows when he went into the grocery store he is paying more for his steak, but he cannot understand why the consumer is paying more, and he lost money until he realized the processes of remaking $1800 per
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head. there is an opportunity for us, and we recently announced an initiative to expand processing capacity. who will loan those? farmer owned cooperatives can help create momentum for enough farmers to come together so they profit not just from production but processing. maybe then they also figure out how can we add a little difference to whatever it is we are producing so we market it to a niche market of high-value opportunities? my wife and i are buying a lot of steaks from local meat shops. it is great. it may be a slightly higher cost, but we know that money is staying in the community, it is circular, it is coming around. it is helping to employ people, it is helping local farmers have
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access to additional markets, and it is strengthening our system so it is more resilient. we need to balance efficiency and productivity with profitability and resiliency. one way to do that is make sure farmers of all sizes have a fair shake. cornelius: i wish every consumer was in the position where you are where you are willing to pay a higher price, but that is not the reality in our country. most are looking for the lowest price. co-ops are extremely important, but even that is a challenge. we talked about smaller cooperatives. are there opportunities with the department in terms of these programs were not only small cooperatives come together but independently owned and controlled businesses, but how do cooperatives work together across states and regions and nationally to do what you said? sec. vilsack: let's start with
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the programs i mentioned. the opportunity for a processing facility that would essentially allow multiple state producers a place in addition to the big three or four they have access to to market their cattle. now there is a little competition for supply. we have a capacity issue. one of the reasons we are seeing the situation we are in is because we do not have sufficient capacity. that is why consumers are paying more. when you expand capacity, you create opportunities for consumers to have a more fair deal at the grocery store, and you create opportunity. we understand the supply chain, a lotta folks are in the middle between the producer and the processor and the grocery store. there were folks impacted by this. co-ops have the chance to be in the warehouses, to be in the cold storage business, to be
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bringing farmers together to create the value added branded product were people go to the grocery store and know they are buying from cornelius, a local farmer. there were multiple ways, one thing we will try to do is take resources from the american rescue plan and provide it to co-ops through cooperative agreements to educate people about the full extent of the programs that usda. as knowledgeable as you are -- and you are incredibly knowledgeable -- the reality is not every but he knows as much as you know. we need to make sure people understand there are 41 different programs, a series of programs for marketing, a variety of programs for opportunities. we need to create better awareness of the amazing reach of the department of agriculture. once co-ops have that knowledge and the connections, they can
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begin to make grant applications, make procurement deals. what it does is it creates a more resilient system. the key here is that co-ops not only can aggregate and give the small producer a seat at the table, but they are trusted. it is hard for me to go into a community and say, i'm from usda, i am here to help, and have people think maybe, maybe not. but if you walk in and say we have a program, the co-op will work with usda, then people say, where do i sign up? cornelius: we spent a lot of tim talking about the food system. usda is one of the only agencies that touches everybody in this country whether we realize it or not. i visited with members in 2014
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when the nation was challenged based on a city in the midwest in ohio. at the right time there was a toxic algae bloom. they shut down the water supply for half a million people in toledo, ohio. the conservation services was taxed with the cleanup effort. we were working in cleveland during the time, and all operations stop. in our nation, it stopped the water supply for half a million people. epa said this toxic algae bloom is waiting to happen in all 50 states in the nation. all it takes is pesticide to run off a farm -- they call it the
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perfect storm. it is waiting to happen in every state. it is important for usda to play a role in climate change. how do we look at climate change where everybody understands the role we play? and how do we get an educational program around that? sec. vilsack: co-ops have a tremendous opportunity to partner with us to stretch and expand the messaging. we just released in the last several days our climate smart adaptation and mitigation strategy, and it starts with the notion of leveraging existing programs to be able to address climate and climate related issues. you will see a targeting of our conservation programs to climate smart practice is. we started this process in an experimental way with a number of states impacted by drought
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out of the west. we will continue to see more focus and targeting of our resources on climate smart practices. there are 45 things you can do on a farm to impact positively the ability to help your soil, have cleaner water, and potentially reduce the emissions, the footprint of that farm. we want to target those resources. working in cooperation with co-ops can essentially provide information and technical assistance, and an appreciation for the programs available. this allows me to talk briefly about the importance of congress finishing his work on the infrastructure and the reconciliation bill because there are significant resources under any iteration of those proposals to be able to fund significant expansion of climate smart practices on farms and forested areas. it will provide us with
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additional personnel to make those local contacts with co-ops and be able to spread the word. and i mentioned the partnership initiative, that is a new initiative. we will look for partners. we put out a request for information, in 30 days we will get feedback about how best to structure that program. you can expect we will see activity on that in 2022. it is really about making sure we affiliate ourselves with our land grant universities, minority serving institutions to be able to bring them into the process by making them help us measure and quantify the results of all of this so we have a database to create this climate smart commodity. there is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration, for bringing this together.
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we are too divided as a country, and we are not effective when we are divided. we are seeing this in the nation's capital. we are better off if we figure out where a common cause is, and the, because ought to be revitalizing the real economy because that helps everybody. it literally helps everybody in the country. come cause should be about better soil health because it ensures food and national security. water quality, making sure with precision agriculture and the right practices we can reduce the risk of algae blooms and so forth, and create an agriculture that not only leads us here, but leaves the rest of the world in reducing agricultural footprint so we can mitigate the consequences of a changing
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climate. cornelius: during this pandemic, not only did we see how vulnerable the food system is, we saw how vital it is for broadband, and it has the ability to connect us all. these partnerships is one way to connect people, but in these rural communities, they have limited access to broadband if any at all. will the agency prioritize that? sec. vilsack: this will be a broken record because we see cooperatives have a tremendous opportunity to provide not only electric service but to use their access to expand broadband. we have to get serious about this. we have to put real resources behind this. we nickel and dime broadband. we like to talk about it and every politician does, we have to have access to broadband --
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but when it comes to the budgeting, a billion here and a billion there. the reconciliation bill will provide significant resources, the critical mass of resources that will send a clear message that we are going to be serious about ensuring every area, every remote and rural area will have access, and not just access to broadband, but the download and upload speeds are so slow that you effectively do not have access. you have to have adequate access. what we are doing with usda and our reconnect program, if you want our resources, you have to commit to download and upload speeds that actually will provide effective access. our next round of reconnect, you will see a commitment to that approach. you will see that once the infrastructure bill passes, and whatever resources are available.
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if we do not get serious, we will be talking about this for another 20 years like i have been talking about it for the last 20 years. it is critically important. we found out during the pandemic that it is not just the small business guy or the farmer, it is also the teacher who may be faced with distance-learning requirements because of the pandemic, or it may be a physician, the opioid challenge, trying to provide mental health services and substance abuse services. if you have broadband, you have access to experts. it is across-the-board that it affects the quality of life in the economic opportunity in rural places. cornelius: this situation is not new, as you know. there are tremendous challenges in rural communities. we are at our best when folks
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come together and cooperate. their unique situations as well. i hope the agency will be flexible around these things, for example, our training center is in alabama, small, rural community. it is serviced by alabama power. we are the biggest employer in that community. we had at&t come out, and they said for $100,000 they could give us access, broadband access -- for $100,000. with that access, not only is it access for the federation training center and staff and membership, we could become a point to provide access to the community. there are solvable problems. we hope these programs are flexible enough to create
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community ownership as well. how do you see that happening? sec. vilsack: it starts with before you make decisions about how a program will be operated or structured, you listen and learn. i have been impressed that are our team at usda have done a significant amount of learning. we have significant resources available from the rescue plan. the way it was structured, there was not much direction from congress as to what we needed to do with it. we went out and listen, and we found out a lot of folks did not get help under the previous covid relief packages. we tried to fashion specific programs to help, whether organic or contract growers worldwide variety of folks who did not get help. we tried to create programs to get help. and structuring those programs before we put the money out, we solicited input, and people
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said, you have to structure it this way or create this flexibility or make sure small folks have the ability to access this. it cannot just be the big guys who get access. we tried to structure programs to be responsive. part of it is taking the time to listen and structuring with enough flexibility to meet the needs that you identified. cornelius: as we close this down, co-opt stakeholders from rural and urban communities that usda serves, what is it we can do to be better partners to help you roll out these programs and make sure we are building more resilient communities across the country? sec. vilsack: let me speak specifically to the urban folks. there is a tendency when the act secretary comes in the room to talk about rural places, that is understandable. a growing part of the climate solution is urban agriculture.
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a growing opportunity for prosperity. that again creates the opportunity in an urban center for cooperative activity. we just announced grants to help cities begin to formulate advisory groups and a plan to encourage urban farming. it can be rooftop or community gardens or school activities. it could be a combination of all that. there is a growing and important component of agriculture in the future will be vertical farming. taking an old warehouse and converting it where leafy greens are produced. people need to understand the department of agriculture is not just limited to rural farms, it also includes urban centers.
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in terms of what you can do, this is an incredibly pivotal point because we have for the first time in quite some time resources and the possibility of resources from the infrastructure bill and reconciliation bill to really fundamentally make a difference. now is the time for people to be engaged and understand it is not just the commerce department, not just education. the usda is a department where there needs to be greater connection, greater understanding, greater partnerships, and looking for opportunities to create relationships that will allow us to get these resources invested in the right way. this claimant opportunity -- this climate opportunity -- there will be significant money for these projects. we just announced a 100 million
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dollar loan guarantee program designed to deal with those issues in the middle of the supply chain. there is the broadband issue, tremendous opportunity. the creation of local and regional food systems from farmer to farmers market, farmer to schools, farmers to hospitals, farmers to institutions, farmers to restaurants. tremendous opportunity for cooperative folks to create the processing. we will have additional resources that we will be investing in regional food systems, and there is no better partner in that effort than cooperatives. being aware and connected and responding to requests we have for information, we want you to partner with us. we need you. the country needs you. more importantly, they need the approach and the philosophy behind what you are doing.
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the notion of bringing people together, listening to folks, the notion of finding common cause, common direction. there has never been a time in this country when we need more of that than right now. you have a role not only to revitalize the economy and provide opportunity to folks, but you have a moral responsibility to lead this country in a different direction, one that does not divide us but unites us. we either gather or we scatter, and right now we are pretty scattered. somebody has to bring us back together. we have the tendency to think folks at the top bring us together, i don't think so, i think it is the folks on the ground to say -- i know my neighbor. i do not always agree, but he is my neighbor. we will come together and go through the hard work to find consensus. we will show folks at the top
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how to do it. that is my challenge to you. show us how to do it, remind us, because i think we forgot. cornelius: we are indeed in a cooperative moment. mr. secretary, before i let you go, if i was the secretary of agriculture, what would you ask me in this moment? [laughter] sec. vilsack: i would ask you to go talk to every representative and every senator, and explain to them that despite whatever differences they may have, they need to find common ground to get these pieces of legislation passed, to the president's desk, so the enormous capacity and potential of those pieces of legislation can be provided to this country. given the opportunity, i think we will take it and move this country in a different direction. we will provide global leadership and create a common
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sense of pride in this country. mr. secretary, get to work. [laughter] [applause] cornelius: thank you, mr. secretary. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.o >> the houses back in session tuesday and work on a senate bill to increase the debt ceiling to keep the federal government solvent through december 3. at the house of the do session at 3:00 eastern. follow coverage at c-span.org or with the c-span now app. ♪ >> c-spanshop.org is c-span's
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>> u.s. supreme court heard oral arguments in the united states versus zubaida. it includes a man accused of being an al qaeda operative. the federal government can restrict access to information and legal proceedings if it is believed that disclosure will be a third to national security. the justices have through june 2020 22 rule in this case. -- june 2022 two rule in this case. >> justice kavanaugh is reporting early this morning. we moved your argument in case 2027. case 2827, mr. fletcher. the united states

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