Ag secretary: US needs better programs for long-term drought

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
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East Lansing — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack plugged sustainable farming and forestry efforts in a Friday visit to Michigan State University, where he promised an aggressive approach to conservation and reforestation.

Vilsack made the comments at MSU's new STEM Teaching and Learning Facility, built at the site of the former Shaw Lane Power Plant using some of the existing structure as well as glulam and cross-laminated timber.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; and MSU President Samuel Stanley accompanied Vilsack during his tour of the facility. Slotkin accompanied Vilsack earlier in the day during a Mason farm tour. 

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (right) tours the Michigan State University STEM Teaching and Learning Facility with MSU President Samuel Stanley (left), U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, on Friday, June 11, 2021.

"This idea that there's this dichotomy between farmers and what we need in our farming and forestry industry and doing what we need to do on climate, it's a false dichotomy. It's a false choice," Slotkin said. 

The visit came as Michigan is experiencing moderate to severe drought throughout much of the state, an issue that Vilsack said is not unique to Michigan.

The U.S. Drought Monitor has much of the Lower Peninsula in a moderate to severe drought, while the Upper Peninsula ranges from normal to abnormally dry to moderate drought farther east.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides data, research dollars and aid to farmers to address drought. Usually crop insurance covers the type of damage done by a short-term drought, but the nation needs to develop better tools to address year-long droughts like what is occurring in the Northwest United States, Vilsack said. 

"I think we'll have to develop programs and retrofit existing programs so that they meet the needs of climate-related issues," he said. 

"...We don't really have the kind of program that would provide the long-term assistance when you're dealing with a drought that goes on for years."

The next farm bill, Stabenow said, has to focus on resiliency.

"That's what the farm bill is all about is risk management tools, but they have to be fine-tuned given what's happening with climate," Stabenow said.

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