That’s the question Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked during his keynote address at the Agricultural Outlook Forum, on Feb. 21 in Arlington, Va. Following the theme, “Managing Risk in the 21st Century,” Vilsack said there is risk we don’t have control over and then there is man-made risk.
“The uncertainty and risk in ag today in many cases are man-made,” said Vilsack. “There is risk in the uncertainty… of the pending sequester. What that means for USDA is that every line item will have to be reduced by about five to six percent. The only way we can absorb a cut of this magnitude is by impacting the people,” said Vilsack.
The same thing will happen on March 27 should Congress not pass a budget or continuing resolution. “Theoretically all government activity stops,” said Vilsack. “That is another man-made risk.”
The lack of a farm bill puts producers at risk, while Vilsack touted immigration reform to help increase farm labor. All of these are man-made risks that can be resolved by Congress, stated Vilsack; however, other risks, like the historic drought that affected more than 50 percent of U.S. counties are beyond man’s control.
This prompted USDA to drought task force to mitigate the effects of the drought. “We started thinking, were there steps other than what should be doing in order to provide help and assistance,” said Vilsack.
By promoting multicropping and finding a way for all farming groups — genetically engineered and organic farming — to coexist “we can mitigate risk of producers working in same space with different farming types,” said Vilsack.
An advocate for rural America, Vilsack reiterated that rural America is the number one place for food production, energy, oil, and natural gas, and it is essential to provide the tools to people in those areas to help keep America secure and productive.
“They [rural America] will be able to deal with weather-related risks. They have historically,” said Vilsack. “What they need is for us in Washington, D.C. to act, cooperate, to agree and compromise to get through the process so we are not faced with budget uncertainty