US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a statement last week that rural America is becoming "less and less relevant". After reading the article in which his comments were published, I have to assume he was referring to rural America's diminishing political clout and not making a sweeping statement that we simply don't matter any more. But let's explore both possibilities.
|US Sec. of Ag Tom Vilsack (photo:AP)
I first became aware of the Secretary's statements when Tim Lennox, a Montgomery television news anchor, asked me via Twitter Sunday morning to add a comment about it on his blog. I skimmed through the linked article and in my comment agreed that the failure (thus far) to get a new Farm Bill passed does show that agricultural and rural development programs aren't given the legislative priority they were once afforded. I also mentioned that we in agriculture need to continue building relationships with consumers to the point that hopefully they would advocate with us for workable farm policy.
Fast forward to Monday. About halfway through the afternoon milking I received a call from a reporter in Washington, DC, asking if I would be willing to chat for 5-10 minutes about the Secretary's comments. I stepped outside, reiterated my thoughts about rural America's political influence, and shared a little bit of my own farming story. That reporter's article was published online today by...of all things...a Russian news agency. You can read it here if you so desire.
This evening, I went back and re-read the original article. There are a couple of things Vilsack said that I strongly disagree with. One is that we shouldn't be spending our time fighting to keep the EPA from regulating farm dust or the Department of Labor from telling us what our kids can and can't do on our farms. Maybe the Administration never intended for either of those things to happen, but I won't apologize for not trusting regulations that give wiggle-room to overzealous bureaucrats.
The other statement that I take issue with is that we rural Americans have to change our mindset in order to attract more young people into farming. What am I, chopped liver? I know plenty of folks my age and younger that are excited to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities American agriculture will offer over the next half-century. Could we stand to have more folks involved in food production? Absolutely! But don't discount the ability of those of us already and soon-to-be involved in farming to get the job done.
As I take a deep breath and wrap this post up, I'll go back to the question of whether or not Vilsack's comments were specific to rural America's political influence or relevancy in general. I think it was the former and not the latter, because to say rural America no longer matters would be completely absurd! Yeah, people continue to move out of the country and into the cities, and maybe we don't have the clout in DC that we once had. But rural Americans...farmers, community bankers, small business owners, truck drivers, etc...are still critical to the strength of our great country. In fact, I would say we are more relevant than ever.