Vilsack says rural America needs a new mindset

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture garnered a lot of media attention on December 6 when he asked the attendees at the 2012 Farm Journal Forum, “Why is it that we don’t have a Farm Bill?”

He went on to say, “It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that the Rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that, and we better begin to reverse it.” From the tone of his statement one might expect that he was going to go into a discussion of how city folks have written off the future of rural areas.

Instead the point of his comment was that it is rural residents who have written off the future of rural areas by adopting a preservation mindset instead of a growth mindset. As he says, we need “a new mindset in Rural America.” We need to ask ourselves “Where are the new opportunities?”

And in his speech, Vilsack identifies a set of priorities and opportunities that are a part of the growth mindset he is talking about.

He told his audience that in response to climate change, the USDA needs to “focus on additional research and ways in which we can adapt and mitigate and develop strategies that in the long term will allow us to continue to have the greatest agriculture in the world.” As part of that, Vilsack talked about increased double-cropping.

In turning to what he dubbed a new rural development approach, Vilsack spoke of “expanding broadband access to ensure that those who set up a business, who establish an opportunity in rural areas, have the capacity and the power to be able to reach not just a local market, not just a regional market, but a global market.”

Another part of this new rural development approach is convincing “smaller communities…that they have to look at themselves as a part of an overall region… addressing economic development opportunities from a regional perspective as opposed to a community-by-community perspective.”

In addition, “We need to continue to promote local and regional food systems…. a multi-billion-dollar opportunity which is continuing to grow and provides opportunities for very small producers [and] which will help repopulate some of these rural communities,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack also tied rural development to the “need to invest significantly in conservation and link it more closely to outdoor recreation and bring those tourism opportunities back into the rural areas. If people are spending hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said. “we need to capture those resources, and we need to turn them around in the economy more frequently.”

In discussing a biobased economy, Vilsack took a line from the old saw that in slaughtering a hog, butchers used everything but the squeal when he said, “we need to absolutely seize the opportunity that the biobased economy creates, the ability to literally take everything we grow, every aspect of every crop, every waste product that’s produced and turn it into an asset, into a commodity, into an ingredient.”

He then provided examples of this as he told of turning plant materials into lighter weight car bodies, hog manure into asphalt, and molecules from corncobs into plastic bottles. “This is an amazing new future where virtually everything we need in an economy can be biology-based, plant-based, crop-based, and livestock-based; enormous new opportunities to build refineries that are not large, as we see in the oil industry, but are small because of [the] bulk of [this] biomass is basically dotting the landscape, creating economic opportunity, creating new markets, as well as job opportunities.”

Vilsack challenged his audience saying, “we need to cement that new economy in Rural America, and we need to sell it to our young people if we’re going to reverse the population and poverty challenges that Rural America faces. And frankly, I think we need to recognize that unless we respond and react, the capacity of Rural America and its power and its reach will continue to decline.”
Source: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee

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J. Barnes    
Illinois  |  December, 27, 2012 at 08:40 AM

Past due time for Vilsack to be retired, sounds like. He's out of touch with reality, reduced to ranting almost incoherently. According to him farmers are irrelevant because we don't have good internet access making us uncompetitive in the global marketplace but we should be selling in the local and regional marketplace anyway because small scale medieval subsistence agriculture is the one growth sector that will save our ungrateful pathetic butts. Oh, and instead of using our hog manure and corn cobs for fertilizer we should manufacture them into parking lots and soda bottles? Seriously Vilsack? Rural America doesn't "need a new mindset" so much as we need sane leadership over at USDA. Cambodia experienced Pol Pot's agrarian utopian campaign and we all saw how that turned out for them. Vilsack and Merrigan and the entire crew of HSUS shills at USDA need to be replaced before they do real damage.

Fayette  |  December, 27, 2012 at 09:49 AM

Sorry I have to disagree with your comments.......I am no fan of Vilsack to be sure, but what he says "addressing economic development opportunities from a regional perspective as opposed to a community-by-community perspective.”is absoltutely true. I am headquartered in a county of 8,000 people with three tiny towns. Nobody in the three towns wants to work together for the good of the county, instead they want to work against each is ridiculous. None of the three communities can afford to do this and then they wonder why nobody wants to put their company in the county.......instead of focusing on manufacturing jobs, they need to work together to advertise their assests (agriculture) and recreation.......but nobody wants to see those things. So instead of thriving, the county is dying.

December, 27, 2012 at 09:32 AM

His comments are just ridicules lip service. No way, no how is this administration wanting to expand agriculture. He sure didn’t talk about how government regulations and government funded power hungry so called enviro groups are making what is left of agriculture in all sectors (logging, ranching, farming) go not only in to preservation mode, but are succumbing to these regulations that make it impossible to do anything. And the words “adapt” and “mitigate”? Nothing like socialistic progressive words. We have to adapt to what his administration wants. And what is with this making pig parts into paving material? That’s incredible. Pigs tougher than asphalt and oil products. Common sense has left the planet.

Ohio  |  December, 27, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Where has Vilsack being in the last few years? He needs to get out of Washington and see the real rural America. What does he think that Universities and research facilities are doing? What does he think that we, farmers do? We are using any possible way to save our way of life by using all of the money saving, and recicling opportunities that are available. Today's farmers are progresive, and understand all the points he makes. We, in fact seem to know more than he knows about globalization, and opportunities. He treats us in his speach like a bunch of hicks and this is very offensive. We need a more knowledable person in his place.

Winfred, SD  |  December, 27, 2012 at 10:31 AM

I swear this administration won't be happy till all of our farms are either broken down to small subsistent farms as the rules are so terrible. Like in Europe. Or on the other hand with the inheritance tax going up the government will collectivize us all like in the former Soviet Union. Many days I now know what it felt like for the Russian farmer in 1917 before the communists took their farms! It is funny how history repeats itself if our schools don't teach it!

Delmarva  |  December, 27, 2012 at 10:34 AM

Too bad Vilsack's 4 year long beauty sleep has been interrupted. He should have kept silent and let us only suspect him of being a fool instead of shooting off his mouth and proving our suspicions. The guy kind of reminds me of Earl Butz only angrier.

Jeremy N.    
Va.  |  December, 27, 2012 at 01:20 PM

Oh, Tom's just blowing off a head of steam he's kept pent up since firing and un-firing Shirley Sherrod for no reason. Now his pal Lisa Jackson over at EPA is out of a job and Vilsack keeps glancing over his shoulder and sweating a little for his own future with the Obama royal entourage. So, we should be more understanding when he takes it out on us farmers. Tom figures we had a lot to do with Jackson's inability to ram through a full heaping cartload of job killing EPA regulations. Maybe he's right about that. I don't think we stopped him from getting a farm bill, though. I can't see why he thinks that. And then he has the nerve to tell us we don't have adult conversations. Doesn't make much sense.

the vast "fly-over" Midwest  |  December, 27, 2012 at 04:23 PM

If you want to understand Mr. Vilsack, but, more importantly, EXACTLY WHAT is happening out here in "fly-over" land, aka: rural America, get this book: "ECO-FASCISTS," by Elizabeth Nickson. She lays out the cabal between the federal government/NGOs like The Nature Conservancy/and Big Ag. This book will really OPEN your eyes as to how rural America is being destroyed under the banner of "conservation." Ms. Nickson proves that good farming and ranching practised by good stewards actually is better and more productive that leaving wilderness, farms, ranches or millions of acres fallow in alleged "conservation." We've got to really see what these termites are doing to our beloved America.

NE  |  December, 27, 2012 at 05:27 PM

You are all listening to too much Rush , Hannity ,Drudge ect Never made as much money as now.Awful ethanol ,regs and manure not going in the river anymore It;s really tough Ha Ha

ks farmer    
kansas  |  December, 27, 2012 at 05:40 PM

Change our mindset? Interesting. More proof this administration knows what's best for "we the people" and we simply need to acquiesce to the desires of the supreme leader. I am not "preserving" an antiquated way of life like a stick in the mud. I am living my life and raising my family the way I was taught. If continuing in the same manner that made my predecessors successful and employing their teachings on a daily basis on the same ground they walked makes me someone who is simply preserving the past then I guess I will wear that label with pride. Most of us who choose to lead a life based in agriculture care more about our land and animals than any moron from the city ever could. For them, conservation is something they can congratulate themselves about whilst in company of other elitist idiots. For us, it is a matter of survival. I chuckle at vilsack encouraging more double cropping. If he had done more than fly over the fly over states this year, he may have noticed this minor inconvenience known as a drought. I don't know about you guys but we had basically no alfalfa growth, our wheat crop was half of normal production, our Milo failed

December, 27, 2012 at 05:55 PM

HD, I beg to respectively disagree. I make biodiesel from waste vegetable oil. I was discussing with an older greenhouse operator who has been using waste cooking oil as greenhouse fuel for years how to dispose of unusable oil and he pointed out how he had paved the area adjacent to his several acres of greenhouse. I tried it and yes you can make a very strudy pavement from the stuff. The Wall Street Journal just today has a article on how the ethanol producers are rapidly branching out to produce products such as plastics from corn protein. An acre of land is just as valuable as an oil or gas well in its own way. You can produce four ton of corn, four ton of corn stalks, 2 ton of beans and what else every year and with what, a third of a bag of seed, 15 gal equivalent of natural gas as nitrogen fertilizer and three gallons of tractor fuel. No other manufacturing facility in the world can do anything like that.

Ia  |  December, 27, 2012 at 07:21 PM

Mr. Vilsack seems disoriented....He is repeating the talking points from the administration, which is unfortunate. We had him as Governor for 8 years; he was good at the Governors Charity Steer Show at the Iowa State Fair. but heaven help him in any other ag issues!! We may be small in numbers, but are intricate in not only the local and national economy, but are not the bumpkins on the farm, as he may presume.... Believe it or not, there are several of us, who are well-read, and do even subscribe to the W.S. Journal to keep abreast to what the rest of the world is doing and thinking. We are capable of marketing our products, and can speak coherently...amazing!!!

December, 28, 2012 at 09:41 AM

Agenda 21. People need to learn and learn fast about this. It is real.

Idaho  |  December, 29, 2012 at 05:12 PM

Mel, your comments won't be relevant until you learn how properly use punctuation ect(sic)!

SD  |  December, 30, 2012 at 07:59 PM

We all should know Vilsack is a small town attorney-He's never made his living as a producing farmer- He knows as much about production agriculture as someone who stumbled across this website looking for cars.(sorry Drovers) He's stuck administering a program that has nothing to do with farmers, just one that make people fearful they won't have anything to eat without this regime. 80% of farm program payments go to foodstamps- 47 m people (voters) use the program. This in an era where we waste 40% of the food produced. Yes- we have no political power, but what happens if we all quit- tell them to feed themselves. I bet farmers receive a different piece of the food dollar quickly, along with a political power never known to any segment of society.

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