Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack speaks in Lincoln and the Center for Rural Affairs Responds.
Lyons, NE - Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack laid out a vision for creating new opportunities for rural America and growing the rural economy in the long term while delivering the most recent installment of the Heuermann Lecture series at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and jointly sponsored with the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute.
“The Center for Rural Affairs is excited that Secretary Vilsack came to Nebraska to participate in the Heuermann Lecture series,” said Traci Bruckner, Senior Associate for Agriculture and Conservation Policy at the Center for Rural Affairs. “We agree that there is much unrealized and untapped potential in rural America. Many of America’s small towns and rural areas also face stern challenges, and we need effective federal policy to overcome those challenges and unleash that potential.”
“It is encouraging to hear the Secretary talk of the Administration’s support for innovative rural policies that can create real economic opportunity and help address depopulation in small town and rural America,” Bruckner continued. “We talk often at the Center about the innovation, entrepreneurship and work ethic that is a hallmark of our family farms, ranches and mainstreet businesses.”
According to Bruckner, real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade, despite the fact that there is broad support for such investment. Nearly nine in ten rural Americans say the rural, small town way of life is worth fighting for, but seven in ten worry that it’s dying, according to a poll of rural voters in over 20 Midwestern, Great Plains and Southeastern states [http://www.cfra.org/rural-poll].
“Congress and the White House should start reversing that trend by providing direct farm bill funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program at its historic level of $20 million per year and increase direct spending for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to $10 million per year,” Bruckner added. “To their credit, three in four rural Americans that we polled this summer supported a commonsense approach to finding the money to pay for these investments, namely stop over-subsidizing the nation’s largest farms, which in turn use virtually unlimited subsides to drive their smaller neighbors out of business.”
“The Senate and House Farm Bills cap farm payments at $250,000 and tighten loopholes that have allowed some non-farmers to game the system and evade payment limits. These provisions are nearly identical in the two bills and they should remain in the final Farm Bill without further change or negotiation,” explained Bruckner. “We hope that the Administration and the Congressional Conference Committee members will support retaining these farm program reforms and accept the Senate’s modest reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires.”
“Secretary Vilsack went to great pains to point out that there is more in the Farm Bill than is currently talked about in much of the Farm Bill debate. He is, of course, correct and we applaud him for saying so,” said Bruckner. “And that is precisely why we have called for the House-Senate Conference Committee to retain the Senate’s Sodsaver provision that protects prime grasslands and native prairie nationwide. And why we have called on the Conferees to hold additional conservation cuts to no more than those in the Senate bill, and keep cuts to ten percent or less overall for each working lands conservation program.”
Bruckner explained further that the Farm Bill can and should address the stern challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face through programs that help them access land, capital, training and mentoring. The final bill should sustain direct funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, that provides training and technical assistance, at no less than $20 million per year, with an ongoing set-aside for veterans, socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers, without diverting funds to unrelated programs. It should also provide at least $50 million in direct funding for the Conservation Reserve Program - Transition Incentives Program to help new producers gain access to farm and ranch land while retaining conservation values.
“Secretary Vilsack’s statements about creating opportunities for new farmers gives us hope that these investments in the next generation of family farmers and ranchers are a real possibility,” concluded Bruckner.