LONDON, Ohio — You would expect new technology at an exposition called the Farm Science Review. I mean, science is the event’s middle name.
But on opening day of this year’s Review, the emphasis on agricultural innovation and what it means to rural America didn’t come just from the equipment exhibitors — it was the buzzword of Ohio’s governor and the U.S. secretary of agriculture.
“Innovation is driving a new economy in rural areas,” said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, speaking at the Vice President’s Luncheon Sept. 18.
And it’s because of agricultural productivity and efficiency innovations, “that we enjoy something in this country that a lot of people take for granted,” he added. “Americans are food secure.”
Everything that the U.S. needs to survive “is grown and raised in our country,” a system and capacity that few countries have, Vilsack said.
“Innovation has been the key.”
He cited research at Ohio State that blends human health, nutrition and medicine, with agriculture and food science.
“We have the possibility of taking what we grow and turning it into medicine.”
The result is “an amazing, exciting, challenging new world,” Vilsack said, that is drawing young people to careers that explore the potential of agriculture.
Farm bill stalemate
Vilsack expressed concern at the lack of movement of a new farm bill in the House.
Although he was speaking days before the 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30, it was all but certain there would be no vote in the full House before month’s end.
“The tragic thing is we’ve got momentum built in rural areas: record farm income, record exports, record acres enrolled in conservation, record expansion of local and regional food system,” along with declining unemployment, Vilsack said.
“Why would you want to stop that momentum?”
Bigger cuts looming?
He hinted at a “hidden agenda” for deeper cuts to farm programs.
“There’s been a lot of conversation about nutrition assistance programs,” Vilsack said. “What isn’t being discussed is that some members of the House want even steeper cuts to the farm programs themselves.”
His fear, he said, is that the farm programs will be “wrapped up into a much larger discussion about deficit reduction and tax policy” and lawmakers will “make the case that farm programs and the safety net have to be cut even further.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich used his Farm Science Review appearance to point to the agribusiness scoreboard, and said there have been 2,000 jobs created in the state since January 2011.
He pointed to expansions of ag-related companies like Empire Packing and Dannon Yogurt, and said there’s been a $731 million investment by the state’s agribusinesses, and another 28 projects are pending.
“This is in an area where we should be just so pumped up, because this is agribusiness,” Kasich said.
“I think we’re gaining,” he added. “We’re winning, but we’re just not there yet. I’m never satisfied.”
He challenged the farm leaders in the audience to figure out a way to better leverage the state’s farm assets in an economic development push.
“We have to take our agricultural operations, our ability to commercialize, our ability to R&D, and we need to coordinate it statewide,” Kasich said.
The goal, he added, should be to “tell people about what we have here in Ohio, and why they should be here and nowhere else.”
“We’re waking up a sleeping giant, here in Ohio,” Kasich said.
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Farm and Dairy video of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at Farm Science Review Sept. 18, 2012:
Farm and Dairy video of Ohio Gov. John Kasich at Farm Science Review Sept. 18, 2012: