Rural America's farms 'less relevant,' Agriculture chief Vilsack says
WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has some harsh words for rural America: It's “becoming less and less relevant,” he says.
A month after an election that Democrats won even as rural parts of the country voted overwhelmingly Republican, the former Democratic governor of Iowa told Farm Belt leaders last week that he's frustrated with their internecine squabbles and says they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.
“It's time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America,” Vilsack said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal. “It's time for a different thought process here, in my view.”
He said rural America's biggest assets — the food supply, recreational areas and energy, for example — can be overlooked by people elsewhere as the population shifts more to cities, their suburbs and exurbs.
“Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?” asked Vilsack. “It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that 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.”
For the first time in recent memory, farm state lawmakers were not able to push a farm bill through Congress in an election year.
The Agriculture Department has reported that about 50 percent of rural counties lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.
Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found that rural voters accounted for only 14 percent of the turnout in last month's election, with 61 percent of them supporting Republican Mitt Romney and 37 percent backing President Obama. Two-thirds of those rural voters said the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.
Vilsack criticized farmers who have embraced wedge issues such as regulation, citing the uproar over the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to start regulating farm dust after the Obama administration said repeatedly it had no so such intention.
In his Washington speech, he cited criticism of a proposed Labor Department regulation, later dropped, that was intended to keep younger children away from the most dangerous farm jobs, and criticism of egg producers for dealing with the Humane Society on increasing the space that hens have in their coops. Livestock producers fearing they will be the next target of animal rights advocates have tried to undo that agreement.
“We need a proactive message, not a reactive message,” Vilsack said. “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 are competing against the world now.”
John Weber, a pork producer in Dysart, Iowa, said Friday that farmers have to defend their industries against policies they consider unfair. He said there is great concern among pork producers that animal welfare groups are using unfair tactics and may hurt their business.
“Our role is to defend our producers and our industry in what we feel are issues important to us,” Weber said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Sunlight reduces risk of nearsightedness in children, study suggests
- FBI uses journalists as bait for terrorists, escapee from Syrian group says
- Boys in New York buried for hours in snow pile
- Texan who targeted Mexican consulate in Austin killed in shootout with police
- Homeless woman’s stun gun spurs 2nd Amendment case
- Ferguson-related unrest disrupts Black Friday shopping in several cities
- Maine State Prison draws Black Friday shoppers
- Bombers to train over Plains
- House ethics panel defers campaign finance investigation of New York Rep. Grimm
- U.S. to arm Iraq’s Sunni tribesmen
- Police code of conduct aims to curb unlawful seizures from motorists