Rural America needs to pick the battles worth fighting

margins A beef producer says industry solutions don’t help if producers aren’t part of the industry

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Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at 2012 Farm Journal Forum in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012

Now, we’ve had this discussion about the Farm Bill. Why is it that we don’t have a Farm Bill? It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that the rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that, and we better begin to reverse it.

That means a couple of things. It means, first of all, a new attitude in rural America, not just trying to preserve what we’ve got — and there’s a lot of that thought process, “I’m just going to hang on to what I have” — replacing that preservation mindset with a growth mindset. Where are the opportunities?

We need a proactive message, not a reactive message. How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don’t have a proactive message? Because you’re competing against the world now and opportunities everywhere. When I was growing up a kid in Pittsburgh, you know, maybe I’d end up in Iowa, but it never occurred to me that I could end up in one of the foreign countries in all of the continents of the world, never even occurred to me. Young people today have all of these opportunities, and we expect them and want them to live and work and raise their families and keep the farm or start a business in rural America, but we have a reactive message; we don’t have a proactive message.

We have to be strategic about the fights that we pick, because the fights we often pick are misinterpreted in some corners. Sixteen per cent of America’s population lives in rural America. That means, in essence, 16 per cent of the elected Representatives represent rural America; 84 per cent don’t.

So for example — and I know I’m going to get heck for this — the egg producers decide they want to sit down and talk to the enemy, the Humane Society. They’re tired of having to fight referendum after referendum. They don’t want 50 sets of rules. They want one set of rules. They want one rule, and they want to make peace. They get castigated by folks in agriculture, “You’re going to destroy the system.” Actually not. We’re going to grow it, because we’re not going to be fighting 50 different battles every two years. We are going to grow our industry. We’re going to be proactive. We’re going to fight a good fight, a strategic fight, one that’s worth fighting.

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