U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the crowd at the 40th annual Almond Conference in Sacramento today that it’s time for U.S. farmers and rural America in general to be more like almond growers – less reactive and more proactive.
Vilsack said unless some changes are made he fears for the future of the Farm Bill, adding that the existing bill’s funding will begin to run out towards the end of this month unless a solution is found. While the almond industry remains extraordinarily successful – recently surpassing grapes to become California’s No. 2 agricultural commodity – it too will suffer without the Farm Bill’s money for boosting exports through the Market Access Program. “If you lose market share,” he said, “it’s very difficult and very expensive to get it back.”
Vilsack said there is a lot of contention over the Farm Bill, but America has seen that before. What is new is that rural America’s role in the national dialogue has become diminished.
About 150 years ago, 90% of Americans were rural; today it’s just 16%, the lowest in history. The other 84% of the population might understand that rural America is the source of food, but not water, not electricity, not to some of the gas in their tanks, he said. Another important point that goes unnoticed is that the 16% of the people contribute 40% of the military, a statistic that should never be minimized.
Unfortunately, rural Americans have become defensive about this diminished stature, more reactive than proactive, said Vilsack. He congratulated almond growers for being proactive by forcefully putting across their message of health, stewardship, innovation. “That’s a message the rest of agriculture has to embrace and has to do more of,” he said.
Agriculture is the second most productive aspect of our economy since 1980, said Vilsack, and while the rural Americans who are largely responsible for it are well aware of that, urbanites – especially young people – are not.
“It’s time to stand up and demand the rest of the country pay attention, and it can start here,” he said “You’ve got a lot to be proud of; let’s make sure everybody knows about it.”