Secretary Vilsack to Congress: Pass Farm Bill in 2012
"We've got to have a farm bill this year. Congress has to act this year." Those were the strong words of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday at the National Farmers Union convention being held in Omaha, Neb.
"The reason is because it's not going to get any easier," Vilsack said of the political and funding environment the federal government is working in right now.
Vilsack said that just like farmers and ranchers in America, Congress needs to get to business and solve some problems. "We're problem solvers in rural America," Vilsack said. "If a fence is broken, we fix it. That's what we do in rural America."
Solving some problems in the agriculture industry, under the current budget constraints, starts with a safety net, according to Vilsack, because farming is a risky business.
"You can be a perfect farmer and still have a terrible year," he said. Adding that no other business has so many variables.
Disaster programs and crop insurance are a big part of that safety net Vilsack says, but it's crucial that farmers and ranchers and their advocates tell urban lawmakers a simple story that's easy to understand when it comes to what rural America needs to succeed. If we create a system that we can't explain to our urban lawmmakers, "we'll always be on the defensive," he said.
Vilsack discussed the safest and best food supply in the world that Americans enjoy and said some key things are crucial to protecting that, including a safety net, crop insurance, revenue protection, and market availability. He said the government must help farmers when they need it.
Since 1980, the second most productive aspect of the American economy has been agriculture. Vilsack said a lot of that success has to do with research. But too many states, and the federal government, have been looking to cut agricultural research projects.
"It's essential that we see an increased commitment to research in this farm bill. It is the absolute critical component," he said.
Secretary Vilsack said three main issues are troubling today in agriculture: Beginning farmers, regulations, and immigration.
He said beginning farmers need to be looked at differently when it comes to support systems in America because if an established farmer has a bad year he or she would likely be able to weather the storm. A young producer has a much larger chance of going out of business based on a bad year early on.
Regulations can pose a threat to farmers and ranchers, according to Vilsack. He invited Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director Lisa Jackson "out to the farm" to show her what it's really like on the ground because, Vilsack said, "We need to work with the people at EPA to help them realize what really goes on on the farm." He also discussed Department of Labor recommended rules that would've prevented young people from doing some jobs on the farm. Vilsack said he will do everything he can to tell the department that young people need the opportunity to work on the farm, learn the values of hard work, and hopefully want to stay on the farm. "We cannot, should not, and will not mess with that values system," Vilsack said.
On immigration, Vilsack said, "Everyone in this room, everyone in this country, knows there is a problem," when it comes to immigration. He said it's an issue that needs to be dealt with, but many members of Congress are letting politics, and political opportunity, get in the way of solving this major issue. He said it's crucial to agriculture because, "We're getting to the point where the crops may rot because we don't have the workers to get the work done." He said we need to find a way for the 12 million illegal immigrants working in this country to work legitimately because we need these workers.
Vilsack, in discussing the GIPSA rules encouraged the Farmers Union members to, "Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." The USDA proposed rules that would get more fairness into the livestock markets, but Congress didn't agree with them. Vilsack says he'll continue the fight to bring more transparency and fairness in the market.