Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Vilsack presses case that Farm Bill's fate was 'wake-up call' for rural America

UPDATE, Jan. 11: Vilsack tells Brownfield that he would like to stay on, as President Obama shuffles top advisers.

The agriculture community is asking many questions after the 2008 Farm Bill was extended instead of being replaced by a new one as part of Congress' fiscal-cliff package, Ken Anderson of Brownfield Ag News reports. Some are calling the extension "a fiasco." Others are discussing a big question, he writes: "Is the fact that Congress failed to pass a new five-year Farm Bill in 2012 a sign of the agriculture sector's declining influence on Capitol Hill, and with the public in general?"

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack raises the idea in December in widely circulated remarks about the bill's fate showing rural America having lost political relevance. He told Anderson that he's still concerned rural America is losing sway in federal politics. "I think we need a broader message here, and I think 2012 was a wake-up call for all of us about the need for a more proactive message," Vilsack said. "A need to reach out and develop new and stronger alliances — and to be getting the agricultural message not just in agricultural publications and in agricultural meetings and discussions, but in discussions throughout the economy and throughout the government."

"Rural America needs to be more willing to embrace new ideas and opportunities," and to "replace that preservation mindset with a growth mindset," Vilsack said. "To the extent that we're just trying to hang on to what we have, that basically puts us in a mentality where we're not looking for those growth opportunities." (Read more)

Many farmers are dealing with a new wave of uncertainty as a result of the Farm Bill extension. Vilsack spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro on "Talk of the Nation" yesterday about that uncertainty and why the Farm Bill is so important.

"Farmers are expressing some frustration about the fact that they were close to getting a five-year program that would have been comprehensive, that would have had a series of reforms, that would have assited in dealing with the fiscal challenges the country is faced with," Vilsack said. Now, they face uncertainties about what policies are going to be and how much support they will receive from subsidies and crop insurance, he said.

UPDATE, Jan. 9, 2013: Vilsack told Mike Adams of AgriTalk yesterday that he needed to clarify his statements about the relevance of rural America: "There’s a difference between the relevance of rural America and the political relevance of rural America, and people are failing to make that distinction. I want to make sure I explain it more succinctly. Rural America has never been more relevant to the rest of the country as a source of food, water, fuel, energy, et cetera. But its political reality is tied, in part, to the fact that there are fewer people, as a percentage of America, living in rural America than ever before. With fewer people, with population losses, more than half of our rural counties actually lost population, and when that happens and you have reapportionment and realignment of legislative districts and congressional districts, you have fewer and fewer people in Congress who understand the importance and significance of rural America."

He continued: "The fact that leadership in the House felt that they could, without much pushback, pull the plug on the work of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House Agriculture Committee, and not get that five-year farm bill done at a time when we could have provided additional savings towards the fiscal challenges that we face, is a wake-up call for all of rural America."


Anonymous said...


Great response by Andrew Pittz coming out of western Iowa.

Deborah Woodell said...

I've been thinking that Vilsack's comments about relevancy, and I think it is more that he is *lamenting* rural America's loss of relevancy, and is trying to get people to pay more attention to it.