By Murray Dale Watts and Kent Politsch, FSA Public Affairs
Farmers and ranchers have plenty on their minds following a rollercoaster year that included historic levels of drought, extraordinary grain prices and an iffy harvest season without a Farm Bill to provide safety net protection. Some farmers and ranchers in Tennessee recently expressed their thoughts to an attentive and important listener.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack heard an extended list of concerns when he sat at a table in the garage of Robertson County, Tenn., cattle rancher George Anderson with neighbors and regional landowners joining them Friday, Oct. 19. Topics ranged from concerns about cattle operations, tobacco, grain production, dairy issues, revised government regulations, and included a call for an easy-to-follow immigration process for agricultural workers.
“I really appreciated the conversation about immigration,” said Vilsack after the round-table discussion ended. “I think that’s a conversation the rest of the country needs to hear. Our food supply is directly related to our immigration policy. We’ve got a broken system that needs to be fixed. We’re not going to disinvite 12 million people; we’ve got to figure something out and we’ve got to do it now, because agriculture is potentially threatened if we don’t.”
The other critical challenge facing the industry is operating without a law.
“We need to get the Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill done,” Vilsack urged. “As long as it’s not finished, we’re losing trade opportunities… we’re losing the opportunity to sign up folks to the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program); there’s no disaster assistance for livestock producers and the dairy producers are under a great deal of stress. There’s no avenue for us to provide help beyond what we’ve already done.”
But Vilsack offered optimism.
“I honestly believe this is one of the greatest times we’ve seen even with the drought, even with the difficulties and challenges of this year. The last four years have been very good years for agriculture; a record amount of exports, record amount of acres enrolled in conservation… record expansion of local food markets, which basically produce direct-to-consumer sales opportunities, now a multi-billion dollar (business); and a continued expansion of bio-based production, providing opportunities for new markets. Actually, a very significant time here — record farm income, unemployment coming down in rural areas. It is a time for a young person to consider agriculture.”