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Vilsack Says Immigration Reform Critical For Agriculture

(Veronique LaCapra/St. Louis Public Radio)

Comprehensive immigration reform is critical to sustaining the Midwest’s role as a global leader in agriculture.

That’s the message from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack told St. Louis Public Radio today that moving forward with the immigration reform plan recently passed by the U.S. Senate is key to retaining international talent that comes to this country to study in the plant sciences.

“Immigration reform focuses on making sure that the visa program for those scientists, those researchers, is doable,” Vilsack said.  “That provides greater flexibility than the current system and gives us the capacity to attract more talent from around the world.”

Vilsack also says the Senate plan expands the guest worker program which would make it easier to maintain a steady and legal supply of farm labor.

Some Republican leaders in the GOP- controlled U.S. House of Representatives have criticized the Senate’s plan, saying in part that it is too vague when it comes to ensuring border security.

Speaker John Boehner has indicated that House Republicans are likely to develop their own immigration reform plan, but that it will probably be done piece by piece.

Below is audio of Vilsack's interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discusses immigration reform, as well as the federal farm bill, climate change and crop insurance fraud.

Farm Bill

Vilsack says failure to pass a federal farm bill before it expires next month could send ripples all the way to the checkout aisle.

Inaction, he says, will trigger farm policies that date back to the 1940s.

“This will require the United States to begin purchasing commodities at very high prices that will likely create shortages that over time will over time will drive up prices for consumers," he said.

The Senate and House have passed farm bills, but there are big differences. Most notably, the Senate version has funding for food stamps, while the House version does not.

Members are currently on summer recess, and a conference committee to hash out their differences has not been set.

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd

Copyright 2013 St. Louis Public Radio

Tim Lloyd grew up north of Kansas City and holds a masters degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia. Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he launched digital reporting efforts for Harvest Public Media, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded collaboration between Midwestern NPR member stations that focuses on agriculture and food issues. His stories have aired on a variety of stations and shows including Morning Edition, Marketplace, KCUR, KPR, IPR, NET, WFIU. He won regional Edward R Murrow Awards in 2013 for Writing, Hard News and was part of the reporting team that won for Continuing Coverage. In 2010 he received the national Debakey Journalism Award and in 2009 he won a Missouri Press Association award for Best News Feature.
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