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Agriculture Secretary Touts Bio-Based Economy

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack brought his message of rural revitalization to Pittsburgh Monday. The former Governor of Iowa spoke before the National Association of Counties' convention, where he outlined four cornerstones on which the rural economy will grow.

Secretary Vilsack told the elected officials that the Agriculture department is stressing "production agriculture," which he says is more efficient than ever before and more efficient than in any other country.

Vilsack went on to stress that the department will also focus on embracing the "bio-based economy."

"I have in my hand a Dasani water bottle," said Vilsack as he raised a small half-full bottle of water. "It has a designation 30% plant-based. The reality is in two years this bottle with be 100% plant-based."

The USDA has launched a bio-preferred program that supports businesses that are finding new uses for bio-based stock. "That would open up potentially millions of dollars of contract and job growth opportunities in your counties," said Vilsack.

Vilsack then turned to the nation's forestlands. The USDA hopes to increase the number of board feet produced in the U.S., but he said it must be balanced with conservation.

"We understand and appreciate that there is a direct link between conservation and improving wildlife habitat and opportunities for hunting and fishing and hiking and biking," Vilsack said. The outdoor recreation industry is a $730 billion industry in the United States, he said. "We want to do a better job of creating wildlife habitat, a better job of cleaning up our streams."

Vilsack's fourth cornerstone is the support of local and regional food systems. He encouraged the county officials to talk to their residents about tapping into federal programs supporting such systems, including help for farmer's markets, support for veterans wanting to work in farming and funding for cold storage and mobile slaughter units.

Vilsack also stressed to county officials the department's effort to shore up rural health care facilities and efforts to work with the Department of the Navy to create a bio-based jet fuel to reduce the military's dependence on foreign oil.