It's important for the entire nation to understand and appreciate the condition and state of rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told more than 1,000 farmers attending the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif. "We need America to understand why trade agreements are important, why the biofuels industry is important, why farm programs are important and why
necessary for us to be concerned about the future of farming,” Vilsack said.
In looking at the conditions of rural America, Vilsack said it mirrors the challenges of farm families. "We see farm families struggle with income that is so dependent on jobs outside of the farm,” Vilsack explained. "Today less than 1% of population farming. That creates challenges for agriculture to have the kind of political support it needs to have the environment it needs to succeed.”
Part of Vilsack's strategy for rebuilding rural communities is based on trade. Every billion of ag trade is 9,000 jobs, he said, and agricultural trade has been one of the success stories. Yet trade is more sophisticated, today, and will require a multi-facted approach. If the U.S. is dealing with a fragile state, like Afghanistan, we know we are building relationships for trade in the future, for the longterm.
"If we are trying to export into a restricted access market, the focus on a strategy that will tear those barriers down,” he said. Vilsack pointed to the announcement this week of Russia opening up to American pork exports, which was facilitated by a trade team. He said the team is staying over the weekend to try and negotiate market access for U.S. poultry, as well.
"Exports can't be all we do,” Vilsack added. Domestically, building up the biofuels industry is important. Vilsack pointed to funds through the energy title in the farm bill and also the Obama administration's support of green initiatives, including biofuels. "We are going to make sure that biofuels is a national industry,” he said.
When asked about the Environmental Protection Agency decision to hold approval of E15, Vilsack said he supported the decision based on the need for more testing. "We want to get it right and not have consumers frustrated with ethanol products,” he said.
An important part of rebuilding rural America is making sure the playing field is level for all producers, Vilsack said. That's why he'll be following the upcoming USDA/Department of Justice competition in agriculture hearings closely.
"I'm not sure where that journey is going to end, but it's important to begin the journey,” he said.