Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman reflected on agricultural policies and programs enacted during her four years as secretary, and provided a look forward during an appearance at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C.

“We effectively and efficiently implemented a very complicated 2002 farm bill,” Veneman said in explaining what she will remember most about her service at USDA.

Veneman made a presentation at a general session and later addressed the media. She used the appearance to announce a final rule to enact a program of preferred procurement of bio-based products by federal agencies. The rule establishes the process for encouraging preferential use of bio-based products such as greases, biodiesel, ethanol, polymer, solvents, hydraulic fluids and fertilizers by the federal government.

“Our challenges are greater than ever, but so are the opportunities for agriculture,” Veneman said.

She suggested there have been some historic successes during the Bush administration. Examples are the record dollar value of agricultural exports during 2004, $20 billion in commodity program payments to producers, the largest conservation effort in history, with an 80-percent increase in funding, renewable energy support and the huge contribution to international food efforts.

“We have strengthened the way we do business in USDA,” she said in noting how quickly some programs have been implemented. She expressed her pride in the agency earning a clean audit for the first time in its history. Strong initiatives and policies continue, she said.

The stage is set for additional success on many fronts, Veneman noted. She specifically mentioned the advances in computer technology and Internet sophistication at USDA, the progress in channeling research priorities at the agency, looking at rural development in a wholistic manner and addressing nutritional needs both within the United States and abroad.

At a news conference, Veneman was questioned about the controversy of USDA rulemaking allowing younger Canadian cattle to enter the U.S. as of March 7. She responded by saying, “The kind of rule has to be based upon scientific facts.”

She emphasized that the regulatory process and rule behind the decision on Canadian cattle are based on “sound science” that has been reviewed by scientific panels at the national and international level.