What is in this article?:
- Ag Secretary Vilsack: Farm bill passage critical to ag research
- Importance of biofuels
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, says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but could also jeopardize international relations, particularly the Brazil cotton case. He visited Mississippi Sept. 25-26.
TOM VILSACK, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, visited the Mississippi State University campus Sept. 25 and emphasized the importance of ag research programs. With him is MSU President Mark Keenum, right. — MSU photo: Megan Bean
Importance of biofuels
The oil industry “has been knocking this (biofuels) industry down a bit,” he said, and his talk before the Senate will be “an opportunity for us to have a conversation on the importance of this industry.”
During his visit to the university’s Sustainable Energy Research Center, Vilsack asked Rubin Shmulsky, professor and head of the Department of Forest Resources, if waste products from biofuels processes might be used as soil amendments or for other energy processes, and was told that some may have potential as fertilizer.
“Keep an eye on this,” Vilsack said, noting that the farm bill includes federal assistance for commercialization of such products. Biofuels, he said, could be “the future for both America and Mississippi.”
Among projects at the MSU Bioenergy Pilot Plant is a process to convert biomass such as pine chips into fuel.
Vilsack’s tour also included the Division of Agriculture, Forestry, and Veterinary Medicine, arranged by C. W. Herndon, associate vice president of the division. He was briefed on water conservation programs and beef cattle production systems.
Robbie Koger, Extension assistant professor of aquatic sciences in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, showed Vilsack projects on water conservation, water quality, and best management practices.
Through the Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat program, Koger develops innovative management practices for water use and disseminates findings to the state’s farmers to enable them to save water while maintaining yields.
“These innovative, creative water conservation projects are a direct link to producers to encourage them to better utilize conservation to not only reduce water contamination, but to preserve water quality,” Vilsack said.
He also toured the Soil-Plant Atmosphere Research Units at the R.R. Foil Plant Research Center, where crops are grown under a variety of conditions.
“We can control every variable but sunlight,” said Raja Reddy, research professor of plant and soil sciences, whose work also includes analysis of how climate change may affect crops in the future.
“This is cutting edge research,” Vilsack said, that “will inform not just what goes on in Mississippi, but all across the U.S.”
At the College of Veterinary Medicine, Mark Lawrence, professor of basic sciences, discussed support the division’s diagnostic labs provide to the state’s aquaculture industry.
Expertise in warm water aquaculture species makes the university uniquely qualified to address not only the needs of Mississippi producers, Lawrence said, but also those in developing countries, most of which are in warm water regions.
“It’s important to this country that we continue to have a vital economy,” Vilsack said, “and to do that, we have to have production agriculture. We need to continue to expand agriculture, particularly export opportunities.”
Mississippi State University is targeted to be a vital part of a highly productive U.S. agriculture, he said.
MSU President Mark Keenum, a former USDA undersecretary, said “We’re honored by the Secretary coming to review our research. The USDA is one of the largest departments in American government and touches everyone in this country.”
Agriculture is vitally important to Mississippi, Keenum said, generating one-fourth of the state’s annual revenue.