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Innovation for a Stronger Rural America
Guest Column
Innovation is at the heart of the American agriculture success story. As a matter of course, today’s farmers and ranchers must constantly prepare and adapt to get ahead of tomorrow’s challenges.

At USDA, we have a long history of fostering research and innovation that help agricultural production thrive. I am pleased that the 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law last week by President Obama, includes new support for agricultural research and, through a new research foundation, recommits to innovation for years to come.

The new Farm Bill will help us to continue record innovation that now allows today’s producers to grow two, three and four times as much today as they were just 60 years ago. Our scientists are developing new techniques in the fight against crop pests and diseases, new ways to increase drought resilience, and new understanding of multiple crop and animal varieties to boost production.

USDA also continues to aggressively partner with private companies, universities and others to transfer technology to the marketplace to benefit consumers and stakeholders. In 2013, for example, USDA entered into 1,924 cooperative research agreements, issued 23 licenses on patented technology, filed 134 patents, and received 46 patents on a variety of innovations to boost American agricultural productivity.

Agricultural innovation becomes increasingly important as we face the evolving threat of a changing climate. While our farmers, ranchers and landowners have led the charge to conserve and protect our soil, water and wildlife habitat, they need new and better tools to respond and prepare for the challenges of climate change. Drought, blizzards, floods, extreme temperatures, and other dramatic weather patterns means crop damage, delayed spring planting, delayed harvest, reduced yields—and reduced profits.

USDA has historically buffered producers from these types of risks– just this week, we announced additional assistance for producers in drought-stricken areas, and the new Farm Bill ensures much-need disaster assistance relief for livestock producers.

Yet, the frequency and scale of climate events has brought rural economic and food security to the spotlight.

Our producers need a strategy that strengthens agriculture’s response to the impacts of those changes and we have answered their call. This week, we launched a series of Climate Hubs to begin developing practical, science-based tools and strategies to help our farmers and ranchers adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.

The Hubs, which are located at seven USDA facilities across the United States, will collect data and offer practical, science-based tools and techniques tailored specifically to each region. They will help producers connect science and on-the-ground action to mitigate the risks of climate change.

We still have a lot of work to do, but thanks to the new Farm Bill, we can continue the vital research and innovation that our farmers and ranchers need to ensure the success of their operations and the future food security of our nation.

Tom Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture.
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