Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the administration’s firm support of the farm bill and discussed USDA’s focus on the future of farming during a news conference today at the 96th AFBF Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show.

During his comments, Vilsack announced additional funding for a new Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, as well as a new directive for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Council to survey land ownership in the U.S. and to work with land owners and new farmers to develop policies that focus on promoting conservation.

“Approximately one third of farmland is not owned by an operating farmer, and this could have an impact on conservation efforts going forward,” Vilsack said. He noted that the last time this issue was looked at in great detail was 1937. “We want to reassure the farming community that we are not only focused on the present, with implementation of the farm bill, but we also have an eye toward the long-term.”

Vilsack took questions on a range of topics, from the administration’s top priorities for the new Congress to tax reform and crop insurance. He emphasized an eagerness to work with the new Congress on opening up new markets through ongoing trade agreements and discussed the need to work together to achieve a permanent solution to agriculture’s labor shortage through permanent immigration reform.