Nearly $1 billion is spent annually to combat crop pests and diseases.

“We're going to continue to invest in the research that tries to solve those problems,” said Vilsack. “At the same time, we're going to continue to partner, to try to figure out ways in which we can increase productivity, taking the look at the genome of corn, for example, and trying to figure out how we might be able to better use that information, looking at dairy cows and trying to determine whether or not we can learn something that would lead to more and greater productivity.”

Innovation also means having a look at regulatory processes.

“I know that there's been a lot of conversation and discussion about our regulatory processes. … We have today roughly 23 pending deregulation efforts within USDA. These regulation efforts, at least the ones I'm familiar with, take somewhere between five and six years to get through, and they cost millions of dollars. And I've tasked our team to figure out a way in which we potentially can reduce the amount of time it takes to review and come to a decision.”

Regulations on GM alfalfa are also in the mix.  

For more, see Ag groups write White House regarding GM alfalfa 

Addressing the brewing controversy over GM alfalfa (and his recent admonition to all sides to work out a compromise rather than litigate), Vilsack said “If you want to grow GM crops, you ought to be able to do that. If you want to grow identity preserve, conventional farm, you ought to be able to do that. If you want to be an organic farmer, you ought to be able to do that.

“This is not an easy conversation, and the simplest thing for me to do in the position I'm in is to ignore it, but that's not how you all handle tough situations on the farm or on the ranch. You don't ignore problems. You're the greatest solvers and innovators and thinkers that I know of. When there's a problem, you can figure it out.”