WASHINGTON, Aug. 10- Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a White House Rural Council meeting today with the National Association of Counties (NACo). Today’s Council emphasized the importance of beginning farmer programs, especially with more than 30 percent of the nation’s farmers at age 55 or older.

In June, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Rural Council, chaired by Vilsack. The Council is responsible for providing recommendations for investment in rural areas and hosting up to
100 roundtables.  
“Though rural communities face numerous challenges, they also present enormous economic potential,” states the Order.  “The Federal Government has an important role to play in order to expand access to the capital necessary for economic growth, promote innovation, improve access to health care and education, and expand outdoor recreational activities on public lands.”

NACo is partnering with USDA in this effort. The organization indicated that new and beginning farmer programs are important to counties, particularly in the next Farm Bill.  Today, Vilsack said that the NACo’s knowledge is invaluable for the next Farm Bill and future USDA programs. NACo members know which farmers need to find a next generation leader for their farm, he said, and which local young people are interested in farming, but may not know how to begin.  

“Is there a way in which we can identify those folks and create opportunities for them to get together?” Vilsack rhetorically asked. “And is there a way to begin creating opportunities for those folks to be able to work in an arrangement where the young person would be able to establish some equity position or opportunity to purchase the farm, or some portion of the farm, at a reduced cost. And for the farmer to receive some kind of tax benefit so that at the end of the day, that farmer is in the same financial position he would have been if he had simply sold for market value?”

As with any programs needing federal funding, the question of how they will continue or expand will be addressed this fall, when Congress’s joint committee decides how to reduce an additional $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit. 

The Rural Council meetings will continue on August 15-17, when President Obama will travel to the Midwest on a three-day bus tour. As part of the bus tour, on August 16th, the President and members of his Cabinet will host the White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, Iowa. Small business owners, private sector leaders, rural organizations and government officials are attending the Forum to discuss ideas and initiatives to promote economic growth in rural communities and small towns.