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WOOSTER, Ohio — During his visit to northeastern Ohio July 19, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent time addressing farmers’ concerns and some of the biggest issues facing their industry.
With near-record market lows the past few years, dairy farming was a hot topic.
“The last 10 years we’ve gone from 110,000 dairy operators (nationwide) to 65,000,” Vilsack said. “I wasn’t real good in math, but I was good enough to know that’s not a trend line you want to continue if you want an operation that gives young people an opportunity.”
USDA has recently formed a dairy council, he said, to look into some of the biggest issues facing dairy farmers and try to find solutions that will satisfy the whole industry, with a single voice for success.
Part of the council’s consideration is a national plan of proposals that takes into consideration risk management and supply management, in ways that will allow the industry to have greater stability in dairy, he said.
Vilsack said the country faces an even bigger problem — the disconnect between consumers and farmers. He outlined some of USDA’s efforts to help close this disconnect — including the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative — an effort that helps connect local consumers with locally grown foods.
“In America today there’s a disconnect between those who farm and those who receive the advantages as a result of those who farm,” he said.
He spoke favorably of local gardening projects and the education and values gained by those who participate.
“Every school, frankly, ought to have a garden and every kid ought to be working in that garden and have a sense of how difficult it is to produce something,” he said.
Vilsack, along with U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, D-Alliance, said rural America is an important provider of food, values and military personnel — all things a healthy nation needs.
The secretary said about 45 percent of people who serve in uniform come from rural areas.
“I think it’s because in rural communities you’re taught a very valuable lesson early in life about nature, about the soil, about farmers and about animals,” he said. “You can’t keep taking, you have to invest back into the soil. You’ve got to put nutrients back into the soil in order for it to continue to give to you. You’ve got to do the same thing with a country — you’ve got to give back in order to take.”
He also heard from farmers who were concerned some of the USDA programs are too difficult and time-consuming to be beneficial. Several producers said they felt programs should be determined on a county-level, as opposed to a statewide level, which does not always provide a fair representation of the areas where they farm.
In addition to agriculture, Vilsack said USDA is working on ways to encourage conservation practices and get more people outdoors — through hunting, fishing and hiking.
Vilsack and Boccieri said they want to show people, “You don’t necessarily have to leave rural America to pursue the American dream.”