He said there has been a change in strategy in Washington relative to how federal resources for broadband expansion are handled.

At first, the theory in Washington was to give administration of all the resources to the Department of Commerce, said Vilsack. “After all, telecommunications is a big business. The problem was that Commerce doesn’t do much work in rural communities.” And it didn’t know that “the greatest needs for broadband in many parts of the country are in rural and remote areas.”

Now, administration of broadband-related resources is divided between the Department of Commerce and USDA, he said. And that should result in much more opportunity in rural areas.

Vilsack addressed several issues while on the speakers’ stand:

• He took a moment to defend his sometimes controversial “Know your farmer, know your food” initiative to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers.

“Today, there is too much distance between the average American and their farmer, and we are marshalling resources from across USDA to help create the link between local production and local consumption,” said a prepared statement.

“This situation encourages us to look for additional new markets other than overseas,” he said. “Why not figure out ways to link up locally with local consumers in local markets? Better connecting the producers with the schools and the hospitals and the institutional purchasers of food, so they know the farmers in their area, can only help. Why send food money a thousand miles away when we can produce most of what we need right here?”

• Generally, 2010 has been a good year for agriculture in the U.S., he said.

“This will be the second best export year on record, with $107 billion of ag exports. The great thing about this is that unlike so many other aspects of our economy that have a trade deficit, in agriculture, we sent $30 million more of our agricultural products out to the world than it sent to us. And every billion dollars of ag exports generates 8,000 to 9,000 jobs. So we are not just helping growers, we are also helping create business opportunities.”

Farm income is expected to be up 24 percent this year, and exports are expected to continue to grow, he said. “We have to continue to have a safety net for all crops,” he said. “We have work to do in that regard.”

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