Vilsack on farm bill: 'Don't let them do this to you'

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 17, 2013 - As the House and Senate work to get closer to moving the farm bill to conference, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is calling on producers to force the issue.

Vilsack encouraged members of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to hold their Congressional representation accountable on moving a farm bill forward. He said most producers are falling victim to “rural politeness” that is keeping them from reaching out to their legislators with the true frustration that they feel, and that failure to assert opinions could result in unfavorable legislation for producers.

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“This Congress seems only capable of making decisions when there's a crisis,” Vilsack said of the current legislative struggles facing the farm bill. “Say to them, ‘You know what, don't talk to me about extending the farm bill ... That's not your job. Your job is to pass a farm bill, not to extend one.'”

Vilsack attended NCGA's Corn Congress to accept the President's Award from the organization, and he gave remarks after receiving the etched glass thanking him for his work. After giving a brief status report on current projects USDA is working on, Vilsack moved the award out of arm's reach and joked that it was to protect it from energy he may demonstrate when discussing the farm bill.

“The country needs a farm bill,” Vilsack said at the beginning of his remarks about the legislation. “It's not farmers who need a farm bill, the country needs a farm bill.”

Vilsack said a new five-year bill is essential for a variety of important issues ranging from food security to national security. Aside from achieving reforms made in farm policy since the 2008 bill, Vilsack a new bill is needed to improve research to feed a growing population and assist renewable fuels development to reduce dependance on foreign oil. 

 “Do you realize that if oil prices go up to $147 per barrel - which has happened before and will likely happen again - the OPEC nations would at that point in time control 50-percent of all the wealth in the world?” Vilsack asked the crowd. “That make you feel comfortable? It doesn't make me feel comfortable, which is why we need a renewable fuel industry.”

In response to the House splitting their farm bill into a “Farm-Only Farm Bill,” as Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas calls it, and a separate nutrition title, Vilsack emphasized his desire for a comprehensive bill that both chambers could support. 

“You have to have a comprehensive bill that speaks to all of America,” Vilsack said of the split legislation. “And the silly notion that somehow you can divide the nutrition programs from the farm programs and somehow magically continue to have the support of everybody in Congress? Seriously? That's not going to work.”

Vilsack likened the modern American farmer to the “Greatest Generation,” a group primarily known for their resiliency demonstrated through military service, and said modern farmers are “the greatest generation in American agriculture.” He pointed to their advancements in production and conservation and said that no other generation has improved agriculture to the extent of the modern farmer. For this reason, Vilsack asked producers to speak up. 

“How can you accept this from your congress?” Vilsack pleaded. “Why should you accept it? You shouldn't! You deserve better. You are the greatest generation of American agriculture in the history of this country, and I would say in the history of the world, and I don't think that's exaggeration.”

Vilsack encouraged NCGA members and producers as a whole to demand more appreciation for their work in agriculture from their legislators, and said producers shouldn't settle for the way the current farm bill process is unfolding.

“Don't let them do this to you,” Vilsack said. “You're better than this. You deserve more than this.”

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