(Posted Fri. Mar 1st, 2013)
Mar. 1: This morning, emcee Mark Mayfield once again welcomed Commodity Classic General Session attendees to the forum. The packed house listened intently as Mayfield led the program through a series of exciting presentations from sponsor Dow AgroSciences, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and inspirational speaker Chad Hymas. Rounded out by a talk show-style panel during which the presidents of all four hosting associations, General Session 2013 provided insight into the broader political climate affecting farmers as well as inspirational messages to take into the upcoming planting season.
Mayfield opened the presidents’ roundtable conducting brief interviews with each participant. Speaking with National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson, Mayfield inquired first about the growing push for sustainability and what it means today for farmers.
“Sustainability for corn growers means that we continuously improve the way we grow corn,” said Johnson, a farmer from Floyd, Iowa. “In our effort to improve, we need access to the best seed technology, genetics and agronomic practices. For us, sustainability is leaving the land in better shape for our kids and our grandkids.”
Mayfield followed up by asking what Johnson believes will help shape a strong future for farmers.
“We have a great story to tell, but sadly we don’t have that many farmers out there telling their story,” she replied. “This is hurting us in D.C. with our policymakers and in our dialogue with consumers, who want to know who we are, what we do and that their food is safe.”
Johnson called upon not only Commodity Classic attendees, but also on Americans across the country, to act now. Coming out of morning discussions with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, she noted that the failure of Congress to pass a farm bill was only one small example of how inaction on the part of our legislators is impacting the country in major ways.
“If there is anything I can leave today with the audience, it is a call to action,” said Johnson. “Everyone out there as an American and as a farmer needs to call their representatives in Congress. They need to say that we are mad as hell. We are sick of people pointing fingers and assigning blame. We aren’t going to accept it anymore. You have to act responsibly, and you have to act now.”
Mayfield then conducted similar interviews with American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy, National Association of Wheat Growers President Eric Youngren and National Sorghum Producers President Terry Swanson. Then, the conversation shifted to a more open format as the presidents discussed questions about the continued relevancy of agriculture. 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.
For the fourth consecutive year, Secretary Vilsack addressed attendees of Commodity Classic’s General Session. He began by expressing his commitment to working with America’s farmers.
“I want to start by expressing what every Secretary of Agriculture and all Americans should,” said Sec. Vilsack. “Thank you for what you do, and what your families do, every single day. You not only produce enough food for all of our needs every single day, but you produce an abundance that enables us to export much of what you grow to feed the rest of the world and grow U.S. jobs.”
Calling farmers both food providers and job creators, the Secretary noted how American farmers’ willingness to embrace technology, advanced production practices and conservation techniques allows them to grow an abundance while acting as good stewards of the land and the water.
Next, he noted that most of the energy used across the country comes from rural America with more and more of this energy coming from the feed stock growers produce. This movement toward domestically-produced biofuels has helped reduce our nation’s imports of foreign oil. He noted that upon entering his position the country imported 62 percent of its oil supply and now has been able to reduce that level to only 41 percent. He stated that, as this continues to drop steadily, rural America is making the entire nation stronger and more energy secure.
Acknowledging the drought of 2012, Sec. Vilsack outlined how the USDA will work to find ways to mitigate difficulties as the climate continues to warm. He then noted that, over the next year, the USDA will work toward initial steps to help agriculture deal with these challenges. In addition to initial steps, he affirmed that research into the possible challenges and ways to deal with them will continue into the foreseeable future.
The Secretary called on Congress to pass a five-year farm bill that helps build a safety net for farmers and provides support for the growing rural bioeconomy. As he did in prior speeches, he stressed the importance of forward-looking, comprehensive legislation in this area that helps continue the country’s tradition of agricultural strength.
Finally, he noted that, before doing so, the Congress must pass a budget. Reminding the audience that the sequester will most probably go into effect later today, Sec. Vilsack described the ways in which these budget cuts must be implemented, how they will impact the USDA and how this will impact farmers.
As he concluded, Sec. Vilsack clarified earlier remarks about the relevance of rural America. He stressed that he is well aware of the important role that farmers play, but that shrinking populations have made farmers less of a voice in the federal government. Then, he stressed that by working together with those who want an economically secure, ecologically secure, energy secure country to fully realize the enormous opportunity in rural America.
General Session wrapped up on a positive note with the Chad Hymas, whose inspiring story pleased the crowd greatly.