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Sec. Vilsack Visits WI to Announce First Climate-Smart Certified Product

A man stands behind a podium. There is a blue banner behind him that reads, "Investing in Rural America."
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, speaks at the event.

"Today is a really important day for us,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday, March 26 at Great River Milling in Fountain City. “It's an opportunity to create a different narrative about American agriculture: it's innovative and committed to sustainability."

A man stands behind a podium.
WI DATCP Secretary, Randy Romanski, gives his remarks at the announcement event.

Secretary Vilsack announced the first climate-smart certified product available to consumers: long grain white rice. The rice was grown using climate-smart practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60-95% and reduce water use by at least 33%. This new climate-smart rice is part of the USDA Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities Program which seeks to create new markets for climate-smart commodities, leverage the greenhouse gas benefits, and provide financial benefits to farmers, especially small and underserved producers. The USDA has allocated $3.1 billion to support 141 projects since the program was announced in February 2022, which includes Farm Climate Smart WI, a new collaborative project of the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance in collaboration with Wisconsin Farmers Union, Outagamie County, Pheasants Forever, and Utah State University. 

A group of nine people stand in front of a blue banner. There are large totes filled with grain on either side of the group.
WFU members and staff at the event with Senator Jeff Smith.

A cohort of WFU members and staff had the opportunity to attend the announcement event, which included speakers like Arkansas rice farmer Jim Whitaker; John Farris, founder and executive chairman of AgriCapture (a company verifying the climate-smart rice claims); Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Randy Romanski; and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. Audience members from WFU included Ed Gorell, Eleva; Neil and Mary Segerstrom, Mondovi; Brad Goplin, Osseo; Craig Myhre, Osseo; Emmet Fisher, Hager City; and staff members (representing Farm Climate Smart WI) Erin Lenninger, Neenah; and Erin Thompson, Appleton. 

Someone holds a bag of rice. There is a farm field in the background with a dusting of snow.
Great River Milling's long grain white rice is the first climate-smart product on the market.

Vilsack spoke about the challenges that farmers and rural communities are facing, commenting that, “Agriculture is the only industry where you can be the very best and still not make a living.” 

He expressed a changing tide in agriculture, referencing programs like the Wisconsin Local Food Purchase Assistance Program (WI LFPA) as an example of the power of creating new opportunities for small and underserved farmers.

A man and a woman stand next to each other.
WFU Conservation Coordinator, Erin Lenninger, met Vilsack at the event.

"Historically, you've had to get big or you're going to have to get out,” Vilsack said. “Because of this, we've seen a concentration in income. My concern is that we're not providing options for small and mid-sized farmers to make a living and contribute to their rural communities." Vilsack views the USDA Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities Program as one way to provide farmers with more options, with the hope that rural communities and farms of all sizes will be able to sustain into the future.

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