Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced he is extending the sign-up deadline for the 2009 direct and counter-cyclical payment program from June 1 to Aug. 14 to give producers more time to analyze their options under the 2008 farm bill.

Vilsack, testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, said the move was in response to concerns he had heard from producers who were worried about making their decisions in time for the June 1 deadline.

“This action should provide producers with sufficient time to learn about the new ACRE program and to make informed decisions about their sign-up options,” said Vilsack. The secretary was referring to the average crop revenue enhancement program that bases counter-cyclical payments on crop prices and revenues.

He also announced USDA would be making Milk Income Loss Contract or MILC payments to help producers struggling with the recent downturn in milk prices. The MILC announcement follows USDA’s decision to use 200 million pounds of non-fat dry milk for school-feeding programs and the TEFAP program.

USDA will also make bonus commodity purchases through its Section 32 authority. The purchases will include $30 million for walnuts, $25 million for pork, $60 million for turkey and $2 million for lamb.

During the hearing, Vilsack said the Obama administration’s budget plans will bring reform to USDA and revitalize rural America.

“The president’s budget reflects a new direction for our country,” said Vilsack. “This budget will set us on the path to recovery by providing a strong foundation and diverse opportunities for farmers and ranchers to succeed.”

Vilsack said rebuilding and revitalizing rural communities will be one of his top priorities.

“Starting with the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and continuing through implementation of the farm bill, USDA will expand broadband networks in rural communities, increase investment in rural infrastructure, and develop renewable energy,” he said.

“The budget puts a strong emphasis on rural economic development, providing more than $20 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and grants to support rural development activities. Of great importance to me, this budget proposal is consistent with the administration’s efforts to ensure that all of rural America will have access to quality broadband service, which is essential to keeping pace in a world that relies on rapid telecommunications.”

USDA, he said, is committed to modernizing the food system, focusing on preventing rather than mitigating the consequences of food-borne illness, which affects everyone from the consumer back down to the producer.

“Our budget proposal for 2010 includes additional resources to improve food safety inspection and assessment and to enhance the ability to determine food safety risks. I am also proud to be a part of the Food Safety Working Group and look forward to meeting with you on ideas to improve the food safety system.”