How to Pick a Good Fight for Rural America

[imgbelt img= bw-fist-fight530.jpg]Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says rural Americans need to choose their battles more wisely, seeking new allies and pressing for better research to solve problems.


Drought Monitor

Rather than debating whether global warming is real, Sec. Vilsack advocates pressing for more research into agricultural adaptation to climate changes.

Rather than battle evidence of global warming, Vilsack outlined the fight he would rather have. He urged the “USDA and all in agriculture and those concerned about Rural America to focus on additional research [to identify] ways in which we can adapt and mitigate and develop strategies that in the long term will allow us to continue to have the greatest agriculture in the world.”

As a result, he says, the USDA is “going to continue to make a concerted effort, as we have the last several years, in developing the kind of research that will allow us to respond, to understand climate change, to understand its impact long term over the course of decades as opposed to years, and be able to provide agriculture across the United States with the information that producers will need to be more adaptive to mitigate the consequences and to be more efficient in the use of their land.”

After Vilsack’s address, the moderator opened the floor up for questions. The first question was, “Mr. Secretary, could you say a word about SNAP’s outlook, its philosophy, its demographics?”

Vilsack responded, “Now, there’s a good example of a battle that we’re having that is not strategic, in my view. The SNAP program, who gets it? Ninety-two percent of the people receiving SNAP are one of four people. They’re either a senior citizen who played by the rules and [is] just living on a very, very small fixed income; they’re a person with a disability; they’re a child; or they’re someone who is in the workforce working, but because of the number of hours they work or the wages they get paid, they just can’t make ends meet by the end of the month.  They are people [who] are playing by the rules that we care about, but we stigmatize those folks.”

Politicians usually tell audiences what they want to hear. This time, Vilsack said what he thought his listeners at the Farm Journal Forum needed to hear.

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC.