Agriculture Secretary Vilsack: Rural America Is Becoming Less and Less Relevant

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gestures as he speaks to a rural community forum in El Reno, Okla., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Former Iowa governor and current United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said during a conference late this past week that in the national landscape, rural America is “becoming less and less relevant.”

Vilsack is working to finish a five-year farm bill before the end of 2012, and spoke with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Ranking Member Colin Peterson and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow at the Farm Journal Forum conference in Washington Thursday.

The perhaps poor choice of words came as Vilsack was arguing that the delay on the farm bill is not the result of policy reasons but rather the decline of political power in Washington from rural America as the population has declined and grown old in age.

The Des Moines Register reports that the former Democratic Governor encouraged those living in rural areas to be proactive, not to hang on to the past, and to pick their battles carefully.

“Unless we respond and react, the capacity of rural America and its power and its reach will continue to decline,” Vilsack said Thursday. Vilsack also said rural America needs to make sure the rest of the country does not overlook their biggest assets like the food supply, recreational areas, and energy.

“It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America.”

The Associated Press reports on Vilsack’s remarks:

Vilsack criticized farmers who have embraced wedge issues such as regulation, citing the uproar over the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to start regulating farm dust after the Obama administration said repeatedly it had no so such intention.

In his Washington speech, he also cited criticism of a proposed Labor Department regulation, later dropped, that was intended to keep younger children away from the most dangerous farm jobs, and criticism of egg producers for dealing with the Humane Society on increasing the space that hens have in their coops. Livestock producers fearing they will be the next target of animal rights advocates have tried to undo that agreement.

“We need a proactive message, not a reactive message,” Vilsack said. “How are you going to encourage young people to want to be involved in rural America or farming if you don’t have a proactive message? Because you are competing against the world now.”