Saturday, December 08, 2012

Vilsack says rural America becoming 'less relevant,' needs to be more proactive, not politically reactive

Secretary Tom Vilsack
Rural America is "becoming less and less relevant," and that's one reason a new Farm Bill hasn't become law, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a Farm Journal Forum in Washington Thursday.

"A month after an election that Democrats won even as rural parts of the country voted overwhelmingly Republican, the former Democratic governor of Iowa told farm-belt leaders this past week that he's frustrated with their internecine squabbles and says they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights," Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press reports. "He said rural America's biggest assets — the food supply, recreational areas and energy, for example — can be overlooked by people elsewhere as the U.S. population shifts more to cities, their suburbs and exurbs."

The nation's rural population is at an all-time low, 16 percent, and that's one reason the Farm Bill has stalled in the House, Vilsack said, not just because of policy disagreements among the House, Senate and House Republicans. "Rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country," Vilsack said, "and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it." Jalonick notes that exit polls found that rural voters accounted for only 14 percent of those in last month's elections.

Vilsack said broader rural interests have suffered as farm lobbies have stirred unnecessary umbrage over false issues such as the Obama administration's supposed intention to regulate farm dust. "We need a proactive message, not a reactive message," he said. "How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don't have a proactive message? Because you are competing against the world now."

UPDATE, Dec. 18: The Omaha World-Herald, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, says in an editorial: "It’s not that rural America is irrelevant. It’s that too much of urban America doesn’t understand just how well rural America is working. It is Vilsack’s job to make sure that story is heard and understood." (Read more)

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