Vilsack and Sherrod Brown team up to push farm bill as economic driver

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack started his remarks to the Ohio Farmers Union Jan. 31 by pulling his National Farmers Union membership card out of his wallet. Vilsack said advocacy by NFU and OFU helped make the new farm bill more diverse, with greater assistance to beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers. “Without your advocacy, that’s not what this bill would be.”

By Susan Crowell

COLUMBUS — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the 2014 farm bill in a sweep through Ohio Jan. 31 that included the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting in Columbus.

The House approved the conferenced farm bill Jan. 29 in a 251-166 vote. The Senate vote is expected late afternoon Feb. 4 or Feb. 5 (UPDATE: The Senate approved the farm bill Feb. 4 by a 68-32 vote.).

Before speaking to the Ohio farmers, Brown and Vilsack visited Plastic Suppliers, a Columbus-based company that makes plastic film from biobased materials, to outline how passage of the 2014 farm bill will create manufacturing and agriculture jobs through increased biobased procurement and promotion.

“Finding ways to create new markets and investments is key to creating jobs and promotion economic growth,” Brown said. “Biobased products also give Ohio’s small towns and agricultural communities new opportunities for their agricultural byproducts.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (right) talks to Clermont County farmer Roger Winemiller during the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting Jan. 31.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (right) talks to Clermont County farmer Roger Winemiller during the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting Jan. 31. (Scroll down to see more photos.)

Ohio has an emerging biobased-manufacturing industry, with nearly 130 companies already producing biobased products.

COOL was hot

Vilsack extended thanks to the OFU members and members of the National Farmers Union for their advocacy on issues in the new farm bill.

“There are some folks who absolutely wanted to gut COOL (country-of-origin labeling) legislation.” Vilsack said. “But you all injected yourself in the process at the 11th hour, and I will tell you that without your advocacy, without your voice, things could have been fundamentally different on that issue.”

The National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association claim their members could face economic retaliation in the form of tariffs if the World Trade Organization finds the country-of-origin labeling law doesn’t comply with U.S. tradition obligations.

Brown also voiced his support of COOL, saying, “We shouldn’t back off on this.”

“The trade people I know think we’ll be fine on this.”

GIPSA

Vilsack said the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act, better known as GIPSA, faced a similar set of challenges.

The Conaway-Costa amendment to the House bill, which would’ve directed the USDA to refocus its efforts on GIPSA regulations, was not included in the conference farm bill.

More opportunities

Vilsack said the new farm bill gives farmers additional opportunities on the credit side, and that farm credit needs to go to the people who need it, specifically beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers.

This month, the USDA also created a new microloan that allows new farmers, particularly returning veterans, to get start-up credit, in a simplified process.

Safety net

Vilsack pointed out the new farm bill eliminates direct payments, which was hard to explain to nonfarm residents, especially why it was needed at a time when prices were high. It’s replaced with a reliance on crop insurance, “which is easily explained,” and revenue protection plans.

Vilsack said that urban or nonfarm connection is critical for farmers to make.

“I honestly don’t think folks fully appreciate the risks associated with farming,” Vilsack said. “You could be the best farmer in the world, you could make every decision correct, you could plant at the right time, you could get the right chemical mix, and then Mother Nature could decide to rain for 40 days or not rain for 40 months, and your crop’s gone.”

Safety nets reduce the risk of farming to a reasonable level, “so people can stay in the business.” And, he added, that’s important because the U.S. doesn’t want to depend on others outside this country to raise our food.

Importance of farming

Vilsack said the success of the nation is rooted in agricultural productivity and efficiency, which is something nonfarm audiences also don’t realize.

Back four or five generations, “everybody had to farm, everybody had to work the ground and the land,” the secretary said.

Then, as agricultural practices became more efficient, “we were able to produce a whole lot more with fewer farmers, and that freed up people like me and my sons and my grandchildren to be able to have a whole array of opportunities in this country, because somebody else was taking care of their basic need.”

That efficiency also lets Americans spend less on food than any other country.

“It all ultimately goes back to the farmer,” Vilsack said. “This farm bill gives us an opportunity to educate the rest of America of why we are so blessed, and why we have the freedoms and the opportunities we have.”

Vilsack said the problem now is we have great farmers, “but there’s too few of you.”

He said the goal is to use the economy and the farm bill in programs that overlap and encourage smaller farms to stay in business, and gave an example of trying to use GIPSA programs that give smaller farms access to a marketplace and not necessarily have to compete “in a market that is stacked against them.”

Vilsack said new trends like a biobased economy, value-added enterprise, or local and regional food systems, creates more market opportunities where producers are dealing directly with a customer.

“This farm bill gives us an opportunity to do that.”

“This is the first farm bill that I’m aware of that actually creates opportunities that are specifically designed for smaller sized operations,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said the farm bill also creates a research foundation to leverage public resources with private, university and nonprofit resources to increase the amount of research that’s being done to create new products and new businesses, for example products using biomass.

The farm bill, he added, is not simply about SNAP (food stamps) and farm programs — it’s a jobs bill, it’s an infrastructure bill, it’s a energy bill.

“It’s really up to the USDA to aggressively market this bill and utilize this bill to create opportunities.”

“The country continues to need people like you in this room.” Vilsack said,

“If you ever doubt, if you ever get weary, if you ever get tired, if you ever wonder, well, does it make a difference, it damn well does make a difference.”

But the ag secretary also challenged the OFU members to continue to build coalitions within agriculture.

“Ag fights too much against each other,” Vilsack said. “They should be figuring out how to work together.”

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

3 Comments

  1. chris sutton says:

    Every time government wants to “help” , just look it will do just the opposite

  2. Seasoned_Citizen says:

    Roger that earlier comment!

    SEC AG and “Herrod” Brown would not know a manure pile if they tripped and fell in one. In their Orwellian “double-speak” they would say they smelled “heavenly.” So, when they say a $1,000,000,000,000.00 bill is “heavenly” and will be ab economic “driver, rest assured it will be a DISASTER. Just like any other mega-feel good “rob the tax payer” act will do.

    This negotiated farm bill may be worse than even feared. You realize, of course, that 80% of its spending goes for the Food Stamp (whoops! gotta be PC) SNAP Program. Farmers and ranchers get the 20% of the “entrails” of this bill.

    Have a look at the Heritage Foundation’s site: http://blog.heritage.org/2014/02/02/farm-bill-make-soviet-central-planner-blush/#

    …even Soviet Central Planners Would Blush at this “Farm Bill.”

    Nothing to see here folks–just move along–keep paying those quarterly taxes, FICA, SS, unemployment, worker’s comp, realty taxes, feed, seed, fuel bills…ad infinitum. It always is, of course, “…for the children.” And who can argue against THAT?

    Onward! Forward! The Collective Rules! Down with Individuality! Hope & Change FOREVER!

  3. TomT says:

    I tend to disagree with you two above posters. Although I think every family should get its money through working and the economy, the truth is that our politicians have sold large parts of our economy to China. Bill Clinton and the republican’s push of NAFTA has pushed Waltons and Walmart to the richest of the rich while Walmart undercut U.S. supplies in favor of cheaper Chinese goods. We have created a nightmare scenario where China’s power is largely the result of this policy. The communist leadership has captured the benefits of trade and paid its workers so low that they can not afford U.S. goods. This is one of the main causes of low employment in the U.S. We have outsourced our production and all its jobs.

    With this policy we have created a large group of people who need govt. assistance in the form of SNAP benefits just to eat.

    I will agree that the large subsidies in the Farm Bill are a result of money in agribusiness buying public welfare and claiming it as something that benefits small farmers. Let us get real. The corporate welfare in this bill with AGIs of over 900K and the loopholes of multiple entities receiving Farm Bill welfare is a result of the leadership in both parties being on the take. They would rather keep corporate welfare in the Farm Bill to the wealthy because they get paid off and lobbied to do so. They are simply on the take.

    We need a farm bill and help for families trying to get minimal food for their families but the structural problems paid off politicians has been the root cause. We elect them and keep them in office so it is really our problem, the voters.

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