The National Farmers Union has outlined four challenges the organization believes require immediate attention in a letter sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "High input costs, declining commodity prices, reduced food demand, a looming credit crisis, and job layoffs have all occurred simultaneously, creating a perfect economic storm in rural America," the board wrote.

NFU highlighted the following concerns:

• Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 - The board urged USDA to implement all 2008 Farm Bill provisions as Congress intended. The Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance Program was a top NFU farm bill priority. USDA has yet to issue regulations for the program.

• Dairy farmers are facing a unique set of challenges on many fronts: collapsing market prices, shrinking demand, increasing input costs and reduced credit availability are affecting the industry. The board called for protecting the integrity of the CCC purchase program by mandating producers be paid the higher of the market price or federal minimum support purchase price. The board also renewed NFU's call to make significant purchases of agricultural products, with a special emphasis on dairy products, as soon as possible. This would provide relief to food assistance providers while also helping build demand for agricultural products.

• Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) - The COOL rule put forward by USDA last week implements the labeling law that does not reflect the spirit and objectives of Congress. NFU is concerned by the many loopholes that would allow all products to be mislabeled or excluded from labeling. NFU urged the department to revisit the rule, taking into account the six month trial period that expires March 31.

• Renewable Energy - The board highlighted the benefits renewable energy production provides to rural economies and said increasing the ethanol blend wall would "immediately help stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce our reliance on foreign oil."

"I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack on both the issues outlined by NFU's board of directors, and the numerous challenges and opportunities facing rural America," NFU President Tom Buis said.

Source: NFU