Vilsack Sends Wake-Up Call to Rural America
Surprisingly Blunt Talk from U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
By Jean-Paul McDonald, Farms.com
According to U.S Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, rural America needs a reality check. With declining influence on a national level, farmers in the United States are “becoming less and less relevant” he said at a recent speech during a forum in Washington, sponsored by Farm Journal. "It's time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America," "It's time for a different thought process here, in my view."
Vilsack was making reference to his frustration with on-going squabbling and urged farm leaders to be more strategic when picking political fights. He continued to criticize farmers who have embraced wedge issues, mentioning the uproar over the idea that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would start regulating farm dust, despite the Obama administration saying repeatedly that there was no such intention.
In his Washington speech, he also cited criticism of a proposed Labor Department regulation, later dropped, that was intended to keep younger children away from the most dangerous farm jobs and criticism of egg producers for dealing with the Humane Society on increasing the space that hens have in their coops. Livestock producers, fearing they will be the next target of animal rights advocates, have tried to undo that agreement.
"We need a proactive message, not a reactive message," Vilsack 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."
"Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?" said Vilsack. "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it."
While Vilsack`s message was harsh, it`s a message that rural America needed to hear. The stark reality is that agriculture groups need to get smarter with their message and how they communicate with consumers and lawmakers alike. Making policy issues more relevant to the growing urban population will be essential if farm groups want to regain some of their influence in Congress. Big ticket items like the Farm Bill will require compromise if farm states want to see the bill go through.