During a Thursday morning (Aug. 30) press conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed Hurricane Isaac’s effect on Southern crops and held out hope that a new farm bill can be passed by Congress before current law expires on Sept. 30.

Speaking from Iowa, Vilsack also announced more than $18 million in grants to organizations across 24 states aimed to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.

The grants, he said, are for “a lot of small producers, beginning farmers, entities, and a number of colleges and universities working hard to make sure farming remains a viable option for young people.”

Queried on damage assessments for cotton, rice and soybeans in the South, Vilsack said USDA receives “a report on almost a daily basis. … On the cotton side there is a potential with high winds … to impact (the crop) a bit. I’m not sure it’s as deep a concern as you might expect.

“On the rice side, it depends on how severe and hard it hits. It could impact production.

“On the soybean side, it may make it very difficult, if not impossible, for some producers to harvest whatever crop they may have.

“We anticipate some impact on crops but we’re not able to know for sure until the storm works itself out. … This has been a tough year and that’s another reason why we need a strong safety net for producers and why we’re thankful there is crop insurance.”

Asked what would happen if a new farm bill isn’t in place by the Sept. 30 deadline — and how likely a reversion to 1949 permanent law is — Vilsack tried to put pressure on House leadership.

“There are several programs within the 2008 farm bill that will continue notwithstanding the Sept. 30 deadline. They’ll continue, in part, because they’re authorized under appropriations language or authorization language.