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DepSec Meets Onion Farmers
Monday, 11 August 2014

August 11--  The U.S. Department of Agriculture's second in command met with Vidalia onion farmers Friday to discuss the farm bill which President Obama signed into law six months ago.

ImageDeputy Secretary Krysta Harden (left) was invited by Congressman John Barrow.  She's a native of Mitchell County in southwest Georgia and grew up on her family's farm.

"Thre's nothing like being on the ground and talking with farmers themselves.  I heard a lot of good things about what's happening in this industry, but there are also real challenges.

"Labor seemed to be the dominant issue they talked about.  They have a lot of issues, a lot of problems and they're looking for answers.  I wanted them to know that USDA, working with Congress, that their voices are heard," she said.

Harden says the new farm bill includes $200 million to set up a federal research foundation which she hopes can work with private groups like the Gates Foundation to help farmers find better ways to farm.

"A board has been established so we can go to folks like the Gates Foundation and other large foundations to get some of this important ag research done.  It seems so simple, something that we should have been doing before, but it couldn't be.

"So we now have the merchanism to bring those folks to the table to work with them to make sure we're really stretching our federal dollars and using some of the private dollars," Harden noted.

Farmer Aries Haygood suggested research on mechanical harvesting of Vidalia Onions could help farmers remove some of the uncertainity surrounding guest workers who don't always arrive when needed for planting and harvesting.

"We talked a lot about the need for mechanical harvesting.  The research that's needed for that obviously is very complicated and complex.  We need to have the universities at the table and we need to have the farmers at the table.  It's something I'll pass on to the new foundation board as a good way to invest the money," she said.

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