(Posted Fri. Mar 2nd, 2012)
Mar. 2: At the Commodity Classic General Session this morning, a packed house of Commodity Classic grower families and others took in informative presentations from sponsor Dow AgroSciences, commodity organization leaders and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The event provided insight into the broader political climate affecting farmers as well as inspirational messages to take into the upcoming planting season.
Repeat MC Mark Mayfield opened the presidents’ roundtable conducting brief interviews with each participant. Speaking with National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer, Mayfield asked why so many farmers play an active role in the greater industry and involve their families in doing so.
“Looking out at this audience, you can see that it is all about families for farmers,” said Niemeyer, a farmer from Auburn, Ill. “At NCGA, we are working constantly to ensure that our children have the freedom to continue our farming tradition. Right now, we are actively pushing forward through four major educational campaigns including the Corn Farmers Coalition, CommonGround, the American Ethanol-NASCAR partnership and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. While each program seeks to reach a specific office, from bringing the facts about farmers to Capitol Hill to starting conversations about food between urban and farm moms, NCGA actively cultivates an understanding that ensures the broader cultural understanding of and appreciation for agriculture.”
Mayfield conducted similar interviews with American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman, National Sorghum Producers President Terry Swanson and National Association of Wheat Growers President Wayne Hurst. Then, the conversation shifted to a more open format as the presidents discussed questions about the disconnect between public sentiment towards farmers specifically and the overall agricultural industry, ways which farmers can address this gap and the lack of understanding of modern agriculture common in the general public. In addition to presenting their organization’s thoughts on the issues, the discussion offered a glimpse into the many shared concerns and unique issues facing each group.
“We have to make sure that the general public both understands what we are doing and accepts why we do it,” said Niemeyer. “Through our campaigns, we have already shifted to an environment that promotes an open dialogue with those outside of agriculture who depend upon us.”
For the third consecutive year, Secretary Vilsack addressed attendees of Commodity Classic’s General Session on strengthening agriculture and rural economies. Beginning his address by thanking the farmers in attendance, Vilsack acknowledged the huge contribution agriculture makes to the nation by providing an abundant, affordable food supply. Transitioning into his broader remarks, Vilsack shared the story of his recent interaction with a farmer and disabled veteran of the Iraq war noting the inspirational passion for agriculture that this Delaware pepper grower shared.
“The first and most important thing that we can do this year is to pass a farm bill and pass it now,” said Vilsack. “This job of writing and passing an equitable farm bill is not an easy task, but waiting for 2013 is not going to be any easier. It is incumbent both upon myself and upon you that we send a clear message to our representatives that we must do this now. “
Vilsack then addressed the principles which must be included in this legislation. First, he stressed the importance of ensuring farmers have a strong safety net through the crop insurance system. Noting that crop insurance now only protects to a point, he said that it would be necessary for Congress to bridge the current gaps to provide assistance to those who need it in real time so that they are able to maintain the farm through a crisis.
He then noted that the farm bill must incorporate a commitment to markets by maintaining our export programs. Last year, he explained that the United States exported nearly $137 billion worth of agricultural goods. He advocated for the confrontation of trade barriers and maintenance of key relationships with overseas partners.
Vilsack spoke to other important markets for agricultural production emphasizing the incredible potential of the bio-based economy for rural areas, to the importance of stable, well-designed conservation programs and to the need for investment in continued research.
Transitioning from farm bill issues, he acknowledged the importance of credit and tax policy to farmers. Vilsack called for Congress to remove the barriers to farming including land transfer and start-up capital that will help usher in the next generation in agriculture.
Finally, the Secretary spoke to the incredible role that biofuels play in improving our energy and national security. Pointing to improvements made over the past three years that have reduced U.S. oil imports to their lowest level in many years, Vilsack directly, emphatically spoke to his support of the Renewable Fuel Standard 2. He noted that White House calls for the increased usage of biofuels would decrease imports of foreign oil by a full 18 percent, the exact amount which is currently imported from Middle Eastern countries. Vilsack called for support of the industry that could reduce energy dependence on volatile regions. Calling upon attendees not only to show their support but to help spread the understanding that biofuels currently reduce prices at the pump by one dollar per gallon, he again thanked rural America for its contribution.
The General Session wrapped up on an entertaining and positive note with the musical comedy of country act Brinnon and Marks, whose family-friendly routine pleased the crowd greatly.