The fourth in a series of five public workshops, the forum will feature a roundtable discussion with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
This week, though, the Obama Administration's point man on agricultural issues, visited the quintessential icon of rural life --- the Iowa State Fair -- -- to listen to the pulse of The Heartland.
Speaking with a roundtable of Midwestern agricultural representatives at the Iowa State Fair, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack heard a litany of concerns and suggestions.
Bill Couser, Iowa Renewable Fuels Association: "We need to work on bringing the cattle industry back to this state. We are well positioned for this industry to grow with the price of feed and the biofuels industry allowing for a cheap feedstock."
Vilsack, a former small town mayor and two-term Governor of Iowa, took notes and listened during much of the session as topics ranged from water quality to renewable fuels to estate taxes.
After the roundtable, Market to Market caught up with the nation's 30th USDA Secretary, and addressed the issue of estate taxes and growing calls for an extension to the renewable fuels production tax credit. Estate taxes, coined by opponents as a "death tax" on wealthier Americans, are largely nonexistent in 2010 due to provisions of the Bush tax cuts. But the estate tax will revert to pre-Bush levels on January 1, 2011 unless Congress either extends or modifies the expiring law.
Mark Pearson: "As a former lawyer in Mount Pleasant, Iowa and I know you've handled estates, the repeal of the tax cuts on January 1 is a big issue in rural America. A lot of concern as young farmers consider taking over the farm. What do you see happening there?"
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "I would not be terribly surprised to see a resumption of the estate tax. The question is what size of estate tax you have. I think the goal is to have an extension that enables most farmers to be able to pass the farm on. I think in the end you'll have an estate tax."
Mark Pearson: "What are your thoughts on extending the ethanol tariff and letting this fragile industry grow. How do see this playing out? Is this going to happen?"
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "We're going to certainly encourage Congress to extend the credit. This is an industry that may be growing in the Midwest but isn't where it needs to be throughout the country.
What we're faced with now is building out biorefineries throughout the country but we also need a better distribution system to get it from the plant to the blender pump at your car. I think we need to consider modifying the credit. I think part might be encouraging the manufacturing of flex fuel vehicles."
Mark Pearson: "Any update on E15 or E20?"
Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "My hope is that we get an indication this fall. The EPA administrator has indicated that we're going to have E15 – they've already discussed labeling – that's an indication we're going to have it. The next discussion is which vehicles will it apply to."
Vilsack's optimism of higher biofuel blends and an extension of ethanol tax credits we're echoed across the political aisle by Senator Charles Grassley. The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance committee, also attending the Iowa State Fair, told Market to Market this week to expect movement before the November elections.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: "Everybody talks about the Congress doing nothing in an election year but I think we will get something done. We need to. Do you want to have renewable fuel from the Midwest or get your oil from dictators in Venezuela?