Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack covered a lot of ground in his keynote speech, including the farm bill, biofuels, immigration and trade.
Ag challenges discussed at the 2012 Commodity Classic
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave a keynote speech at the 2012 Commodity Classic in Nashville that barely topped 30 minutes. It nonetheless was packed with his thoughts on a multitude of topics that agriculture is dealing with today.
Vilsack laid out his No. 1 priority early in the speech with two simple words: farm bill.
"The most important thing we can do this year is pass the farm bill, and pass it now," he said. "It bears repeating that passing the farm bill and making sure it is an equitable farm bill is not an easy task, but waiting for next year is not going to make the job any easier. It is incumbent upon me and incumbent upon you to make sure we send a consistent message to our members of Congress that we expect action this year. We need the certainty of a farm bill."
With 55 million acres of U.S. crops left vulnerable to natural disasters last year, Vilsack said, the "flagship" of any strong farm bill should be a crop insurance system that is "maintained, stable and secure." Lawmakers should also recognize that some farmers have just started their careers and may not have the same resources as someone who’s farmed for 30 years has, he added.
Defend the surplus. Agriculture exports are something of an unsung success story, Vilsack said.
"It’s an enormous success story that often goes underappreciated," he said. "There are often discussions of trade deficits, but in ag, it’s a trade surplus."
That surplus hit a record $42 billion in 2011, Vilsack said. But trade barriers are a growing concern, he added.
"Just 10 years ago, we confronted nearly 600 trade barriers," he said. "Last year, we confronted nearly 1,500 trade barriers."
Vilsack also touched on several hot-button political issues that affect agriculture. One prime
example is U.S. consumption of foreign oil. Vilsack said foreign oil has dropped from 62% of total consumption to 45% in just three years, a trend that he largely credits to the expansion of the U.S. biofuels industry. He said this trend has paid dividends at the gas pump.
"If it were not for the biofuel industry that you all helped to create, we all would be paying a dollar a gallon more for our gas," he told attendees.
Vilsack also touched on immigration, saying it is a good example of how rhetoric sometimes drives policy before lawmakers stop to consider the real-world implications of their actions.
"Sadly, there are situations where hard work to produce crops was all for naught because there simply aren’t the folks [available] to help pick, process and package what we produce," he said.
Noting that the USDA was founded during the Civil War, Vilsack said progress is possible even when times are tough.
"We don’t make excuses, we solve problems," he said.
Commodity Groups Respond
In a joint statement, the National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, American Soybean Association and National Sorghum Producers reacted positively to Tom Vilsack’s speech: "As Congress continues work on the next farm bill, our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority. We also stand ready to work with House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to create farm programs that provide risk-management tools to growers when they are facing a loss beyond their control. We stand ready to do our part to develop more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers and effective in helping farms remain viable and productive."
- Early Spring 2012