Failure to pass a farm bill in a timely manner could derail agriculture research programs that are major focus at Mississippi State University, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a visit to the campus Sept. 25.

The university, which had some $97 million in ag research in fiscal 2011, was recently ranked 9th in the nation for research and development spending in agricultural sciences by private and public institutions. In 2012, USDA research grants to the university totaled more than $28 million.

“I’m proud of the relationship between USDA and Mississippi State,” Vilsack said. His tour of the university and its research facilities also included a dinner with university and state agriculture leaders. He also was to participate in a town hall discussion on “Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, Commonsense Immigration Reform and Rural Economic Development” at Jackson, Miss.

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Failure to pass farm legislation — which has been embroiled in a wrangle over cuts to the food assistance programs that have been the major component of past farm bills — could not only have an adverse impact on agricultural research programs, Vilsack said, but could also jeopardize international relations.

He particularly cited the U.S./Brazil cotton case. “Brazil got a successful ruling (in the cotton suit) from the World Trade organization,” he said, with resulting potential for $850 million per year in retaliatory levies. Those retaliations have been held in abeyance by payments of $12 million per month by the U.S., he said, “but we will lose authority to make those payments unless we can pass a farm bill and resolve the problem.”

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Research projects at Mississippi State and other universities around the country have not only helped to strengthen U.S. agriculture and make it more efficient and productive, Vilsack said, they have also been a sustaining factor in restoring the nation’s economy after the 2007-09 recession.

He said he hopes, in the next few days, to speak before the Senate about the progress in biofuels research and its importance to the U.S. energy picture, and that he will use that platform to also encourage passage of the farm bill.

In visiting MSU’s biofuels research facilities, Vilsack said he would cite the university’s programs as an example of important work being done to develop alternative energy products that “could be extraordinarily important to this country in terms of reducing our reliance on foreign oil.”