A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Rural Blog: Vilsack calls for ‘outrage,’
not ‘disappointment,’ at defeat of Farm Bill

By Al Cross
Special to KyForward


In his first major speech since last Thursday’s surprise defeat of the Farm Bill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said rural advocates have failed to express proper outrage about it. And his 42 minutes of remarks at the National Rural Assembly’s gathering near Bethesda, Md., also laid out some of the talking points he thinks they should make to people who don’t know where their food and water come from.


Tom Vilsack. (Photo from the Department of Agriculture)

Tom Vilsack. (Photo from the Department of Agriculture)

Vilsack said the bill’s prospects for passage in the Republican-controlled House, “and then they overreach and try to send a political message and it goes down. And with it is the opportunity to promote trade … reforming conservation, which will make it easier to expand conservation … expansion of local and regional food systems, organic producer support, specialty crop production … no energy title, no potential to expand bio-products. In short, no capacity to support the framework that will allow us to have a more inclusive nation and to have a more robust economy for those good, hard-working folks in rural America. And what do we see from rural advocates? ‘Utter disappointment.’ Utter disappointment? Are you kidding me? There ought to be outrage. Utter disappointment? What’s at stake with the Farm Bill? The lives and livelihood of 50 million people, 16 percent of America’s population and all we get is ‘extreme disappointment.’”


“Extreme disappointment” was the term used by the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association to describe their reactions to the bill. “Utter disappointment” was the quote from the United Egg Producers after the layer-protection language it had negotiated with the Humane Society of the United States did not appear in the Senate farm bill, which passed before the House vote. If Vilsack or his staff consciously chose that out-of-context phrase, which he used three times, it also pointed to two lobbying interests that are on the outs with interests that support the bill. In any event, none of these lobbies are “rural advocates.”


“There has to be a way of holding people accountable for turning their back on rural America,” Vilsack continued. “This is an extraordinarily important time. The consequences are very severe if the House of Representatives doesn’t reverse its failed actions and gets back to work, puts this back on the board in some form and fashion to get it through the process so there can be some consensus reached with their Senate colleagues and get a bill to the president so we can continue to support production agriculture and exports, local and regional food systems, conservation, outdoor recreation and the bio-economy. It’s going to be important for groups like this to express more than just ‘extreme disappointment’. You should not be satisfied with ‘We just couldn’t get it done. It was just too difficult. The divide is too wide.'”


Vilsack said the flap over what he calls the “Food, Farm and Jobs Bill” offers rural advocates an opportunity to do a better job of telling cities and suburbs what rural America does for them. “You would think that rural America would be highly valued appreciated in this country, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s taken for granted.” Later, he said, “To a certain extent, rural Americans are a minority.”


He suggested an argument that at first seemed unrelated to farms, forests and recreation: “We have depended on rural families to disproportionately dedicate their sons and daughters to the military,” to the point that they account for “nearly 40 percent of military” though the U.S. population is only 16 percent rural. “Why?” he asked. “Because they grow up in an area surrounded by a values system that’s very fundamental,” where “Farmers know they have to give back to the land,” and children understand “You’ve got an obligation to give something back. … That values system is fundamental to the entire country, that notion of sacrifice, of service, of something higher and more important than self.”


Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder that some other participants at the conference “noted that farm bill appropriations weren’t primarily about supporting rural communities but supported urban-based agriculture companies and the federal nutrition program.” (Read more)


Al CrossAl Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community issues, based at the University of Kentucky. The IRJCI publishes The Rural Blog, a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America where this story originally appeared. The IRJCI is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment