Speaking today at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents meeting in Washington, D.C., Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said his agency is running to the finish line to conclude agriculture’s priority issues before year’s end.

Ranking at the top of the Agriculture Department’s list, as well as a top priority for AFBF, is implementation of the farm bill. “It is time to set aside political differences and implement the bill,” said Schafer.

Successfully completing international trade negotiations, including the Korea free trade agreement and the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, are also top priorities for the agriculture industry.

According to Schafer, USDA’s certification system to ensure Korean consumers that they are receiving U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months of age has been successful to date.

As for Doha, Shafer said it would remain a top priority until the end of the administration. Yet, he said, “We won’t just ink any deal. The agreement has to provide better access to U.S. producers.”

Touching on increasing food prices and the role of biofuels, Schafer said he was reassured last month at the world hunger meeting in Rome when world leaders agreed ethanol was not to blame for higher wheat and other commodity prices. Instead, reinforcing AFBF economic analysis, Schafer said ethanol is actually helping to keep gasoline prices down.

Further, USDA has committed $1 billion toward research and development of renewable fuels, with a special focus on cellulosic biofuels. But, said Schafer, until those biofuels become available, it is important the country maintains a stable and predictable renewable fuels policy.

“Efforts to waive or repeal the renewable fuels standard would hinder progress toward reducing our dependence on imported oil and greenhouse gas emissions,” Schafer said.

Lastly, Schafer said he is still very much engaged in finding a solution to the growing labor problem facing U.S. agriculture. USDA estimates that 50 percent to 70 percent of the current farm workforce is undocumented.