Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack laid out his priorities for the upcoming Farm Bill. This new farm bill is about a whole lot more than farming. It's about supporting the jobs of the future, it's about keeping pace with the changing needs of agriculture and rural America, it's about providing a food and fuel supply for the nation, all while conserving our natural resources.
The following observations are from John Whitaker, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa, regarding what he wants to see in the bill.
As Congress works to write the new farm bill, they will have to look for ways to do more with less. They must simplify programs and find innovative solutions to future challenges, while still making targeted investments to keep agriculture productive and rural communities vibrant.
Congress must look for ways to do more with less in 2012 Farm Bill
It's our responsibility to maintain the strength of agriculture, which today is a bright spot in the American economy. As they write the bill, Congress should build on that record by focusing on three core principles that have shaped the success of the American farmer: maintaining a strong safety net, supporting sustainable productivity and promoting vibrant markets.
In businesses as risky as farming, a strong safety net can keep natural disasters from putting farm families out of business. Our safety net should quickly provide assistance to producers of all types and sizes when they need it – and only when they need it. It is very important for supporting beginning farmers, who are particularly vulnerable to disasters and other unpredictable events.
USDA is helping develop a biofuels economy in Iowa by promoting research at the state's major universities and working with private industry to pursue these new opportunities. And we're helping establish the infrastructure to put renewable fuel in American's gas tanks. Farm Bill assistance for energy must be targeted – but we shouldn't lose the momentum we gained to grow non-food feedstocks in order to expand production of advanced biofuels and other emerging bio-based technology.
It takes money for research to maintain the edge for U.S farmers
At the same time farmers, ranchers and growers must be able to produce an affordable, quality product year after year. That means continuing investments in research to maintain our farmers' leadership as the most productive in the world. It also means investing in soil and water conservation practices to support healthy, productive soil and a plentiful water supply, all while protecting our natural resources
The Farm Bill should continue to promote vibrant, fair and diverse markets (at home and abroad) for farmers, ranchers and growers of all types and sizes. We should continue efforts to expanded markets for 'Grown in America' goods abroad, which will help support record agricultural exports and more than 1 million American jobs this year. At the same time, we need to grow opportunities here in Iowa for everyone interested in local and regional markets.
New 2012 Farm Bill should address the needs of all Americans
At the same time, the Farm Bill legislation must address the needs of all American's. It needs to continue to support our efforts to develop renewable industries while creating good paying jobs and increasing our national security. In the past two years, USDA has helped create or save more than 250,000 rural jobs. The Farm Bill should improve rural development programs to make the federal government the best partner possible for people and businesses in rural communities. That means making it easier for people to access USDA support, ensuring that emerging rural businesses have the capital they need to grow, create jobs, and grow Iowa's rural communities.
Today the future for American agriculture is bright – as is the future of our rural communities. We must build on this positive outlook and prepare for the challenges and opportunities ahead. This Farm Bill should help move our nation and our economy forward: creating jobs, providing a safety net for millions of Americans, supporting rural communities and building on the incredible success, productivity and strength of American agriculture.