Vilsack Hits Farm Groups, Others in Rural America as Being Reactive Rather than Proactive

December 7, 2012 02:52 AM
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via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Compliments U.S. egg group for working with HSUS

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

An energized USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in spirited remarks Thursday at the Farm Journal Forum cosponsored by Informa Economics, criticized some farm groups and others for picking fights like food stamps, regulations and animal welfare, saying such actions are alienating the rest of the country and jeopardizing farm programs.

We need a proactive message and not a reactive message,” Vilsack said. “You're competing against the world now,” adding that US agriculture stakeholders must be strategic about the fights they pick. “Rural America has to understand and appreciate diversity,” he said, adding “there must be an adult conversation” about such matters.

"Why is it that we don’t have a farm bill? It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that rural America with a (continued) shrinking (and aging) population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country. And we better recognize that and we had better begin (to) reverse it," Vilsack said. He said he would trumpet this message repeatedly in the coming months (suggesting he has no plans to depart his Cabinet post). "You will hear this speech in one form or another until it finally percolates down and starts to penetrate," he said.

A numbers game. Vilsack detailed that Rural America, which accounts for 16 percent of the voting population, was projecting a "reactive message," not a proactive one that would offer appeal to the rest, 84 percent, of the country. "We're fearful. We're not looking at the extraordinary future ahead of us. We're trying to hang on to what we've got," Vilsack lamented.

Saying he would likely “catch heck for this," Vilsack then complimented the United Egg Producers (UEP) for taking on what Vilsack labeled a "strategic fight." UEP reached a deal with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to impose national standards on hen cages, but it has been unable to get Congress to go along. Vilsack said the egg producers wanted to deal with only one set of rules as opposed to 50 when it came to each state setting its own regulations. Vilsack said UEP “got castigated” for working with HSUS.

Vilsack also noted frustration with those continuing to talk about conjectured regulations on farm dust and child labor issues, topics which he said have not and would not be proposed by the Obama administration.

On renewable fuels, Vilsack stressed he would not back away from his support for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). "You're hearing the RFS is history. I'm here to say it's not. I believe we'll continue to see a robust commitment from this administration to the RFS."

On another sensitive topic, climate change, Vilsack said research was needed to mitigate the impact of climate change and repeated his interest in maximizing land use by increasing the practice of double-cropping, including helping find markets for the production from double-cropping and research in improving double-cropping enterprises.

On a transportation matter, Vilsack said President Obama is concerned about water levels on the Mississippi River, and has directed the matter be dealt with.

On direct payments via the farm bill, Vilsack recalled his first speech as Ag Secretary was to a cotton group and he told them direct payments were gone. “I was right the first time,” he said.

On food stamps, Vilsack repeated what he has said before on this topic – that most of the food stamp recipients “played by the rules” and truly qualify for such payments, including those on social security, disability, children and those whose wages are well below what is needed. He noted benefits of food stamps go to (1) those who get them; (2) grocery stores; (3) jobs affiliated with moving food bought via food stamps; (4) packaging and processing in the food sector to provide products; (5) part of a safety net for farmers as food is purchased by the needy. Vilsack said some people think the money cut from food stamps would go to other farm bill programs, but that is not the case. He stressed there is always a need for reform for ways to improve the program and “until we get to zero fraud and abuse, we can always do better.”

Vilsack supports new Undersecretary for Trade position in pending farm bills, saying the position would “enhance US trade efforts” and make sure agriculture has a seat at the table.

Regarding helping find spending cuts at USDA, Vilsack said he has told appropriators and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to “give us time to manage” and find savings internally. He said if across-the-board (sequestration) cuts would come via failure to reach agreement on fiscal cliff matters, it would limit USDA's flexibility to make adjustments.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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