Food, farm and jobs bill to continue rural revitalization, ag secretary says
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 07/10/2012 3:38 PM
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa —U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sees the farm bill, or as he prefers to call it, "the food, farm and jobs bill" as an opportunity to continue rural revitalization.
He spoke at a farm bill listening session hosted by U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley at Kirkwood Community College last week.
"This revitalization plan starts with production agriculture," Vilsack said. "Last year, farmers experienced record farm income and one of the reasons is that they also had record exports. The new opportunity in rural America starts with what we know best, production agriculture."
The plan extends to conservation.
"Farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of land and water," Vilsack said. "They've developed good working relationships with conservation and outdoor recreation groups. Not only are we utilizing conservation for environmental benefits but also to drive new economic opportunity. We have a record number of acres enrolled in conservation practices and we'll build on that record."
Vilsack said the third piece of this rural development plan is local and regional food systems.
"People want to learn about where their food comes from and that's a positive thing because it builds a greater appreciation for farmers and ranchers," Vilsack said.
He said farmers markets have grown 57 percent in the last three years and infrastructure that links schools and institutions with local food supply chains is underway.
The final piece of this plan is the bio-based economy.
"Production agriculture, conservation, local food systems and the bio-based economy are the cornerstones of the new rural economy, and we've seen record investments in all four corners," Vilsack said.
One of every 12 jobs in the country is connected to agriculture. Record farm income also means record farm machinery production as well as opportunities in food manufacturing.
Vilsack said it is much more than just a farm bill.
"The problem with referring to it as 'the farm bill' is that it speaks directly to the 2 percent of the population that qualifies as farmers, but it doesn't say very much to the other 98 percent," Vilsack said. "This bill affects every one of us so it is important for the rest of the country to understand that this is their legislation not just the farmer's legislation."
Vilsack said USDA is anxious to work with Congress to get the farm bill passed.
"We want this bill because it contains good provisions —a strong safety net built on crop insurance and a revenue protection program, a commitment to conservation and greater flexibility, which allows for innovation and creativity."
Vilsack hopes the Senate will pass its legislation by the end of June with the House completing its version in July. That gives the conference committee September to work out differences and finish the process before Sept. 30 when the current legislation expires.