To Grow, Rural America Needs to Reach Out to New Audiences

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary (Source: USDA)

​Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack will continue serving as the head of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) during President Barack Obama’s second term.

According to a recent Bloomberg article, widespread drought and the lack of a Farm Bill are two of the main challenges Vilsack faces. In 2012, nearly 80 percent of U.S. farmland suffered from drought, which affected crop production and food prices. Unable to pass a new Bill before the 2008 version of the Farm Bill expired, Congress extended the Bill for another year to give Congressional leaders time to agree on a new one.

In a recent speech to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Vilsack emphasizes the importance of expanding agricultural alliances to include immigration reform advocates, nutrition groups, and renewable energy proponents. “I’m going to do all I can this year to work with Congress and secure the sort of comprehensive, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue growing the rural economy,” he says. “But I need the help of those across rural America to reach out, to expand partnerships and to tell the story of the modern and innovative rural America that provides so much to our nation.”

Critics of Vilsack, however, think his focus on biofuels and pharmaceutical crops reveals an alliance with Big Agriculture instead of small sustainable agriculture. In 2011, Vilsack supported deregulation of Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa, raising alarm among environmentalists about potential contamination of organic or conventional crops.

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