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Ag secretary warns of rising oil prices
Tom Vilsack leads forum in Ludowici
crowd 2
The forum packed a courthroom in the Long County Courthouse. - photo by Photo by Alena Parker.
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“Make no mistake about this, oil prices are going to go back up,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned Monday afternoon during a public forum in Ludowici.
“And they’re going to go back up dramatically.”
The forum was part of a nationwide campaign the secretary is using to hear from rural residents. He used part of it to show he is concerned about the dependence on foreign oil.
It’s rural America, according to Vil-
sack, that may hold the key to cutting dependence on foreign oil and strengthening the food market.
“I think you’re going to see an aggressive effort in the next four years to expand, dramatically, opportunities in this area,” Vilsack said.
Bill Lanier of Metter suggested using more ethanol to keep gas prices in check.
“It is certainly an answer,” Vilsack said of the corn-based fuel. “But it isn’t the answer.”
The challenge is connecting supply to need and bio-fuel production only works in certain areas of the country.
“So there’s an awful lot of work going on,” Vilsack said, mentioning the goal is to get to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2016.
“The reality is that most of that has to come from something other than corn-based ethanol because we’re capped,” Vilsack said.
Plans are still in the works to bump up the gasoline to ethanol blend rate to 15 percent to help boost the bio-fuel market.
But just dishing out USDA grants is not enough, when it comes to jump starting the food industry, according to Vilsack.  
“It’s working with folks to create enough of a supply, then creating a local market,” Vilsack said.
The peanut industry has shown sign of rebound after a salmonella outbreak in southwest Georgia plant smudged the reputation of peanut
producers last year.
“Frankly, I’ve been eating a lot of peanut butter and pork — doing my part,” Vilsack quipped.
“A relatively small company in the market can create huge problems for every producer.”
Several small- to medium-range farmers stood to voice their struggles with finding buyers. “It is the resulting problem that we’ve seen with the consolidation of agricultural processing, in poultry as well as a number of other areas,” Vilsack said.
The USDA currently is trying to persuade schools and other institutions to buy local.
Food safety is a matter of national security and linked to mounting health care costs, he said.
“Americans are becoming more and more interested in knowing where their food’s coming from,” Vilsack said.
But as the nation tightens its belt, he admitted some solutions are stalled by budget restraints, explaining his introduction to the federal Office of Management and Budget.
“I think it’s as close to God on earth as I will ever see. It’s a powerful force,” Vilsack said. “We obviously ... can’t continue to run a $1.8 trillion deficit.”
Jerome Tucker of Lyons said the secretary’s talk showed he understood the impact of rural economic development.
“To me, that’s what’s critical,” Tucker said.
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