Commentary: Is rural America irrelevant?

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Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Gene Hall, Public Relations Director for the Texas Farm Bureau and published in the Texas Agriculture Talks website.

Okay, I admit it.  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack got my attention when he said rural America is becoming irrelevant.

“It’s time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America,” Vilsack said in a speech at a Farm Journal forum. “It’s time for a different thought process here, in my view.”

Vilsack was once the governor of Iowa, a Democrat, and he expressed his disappointment over squabbling in the farm sector. He said rural America should pick its political fights more carefully. Citing the lack of a farm bill as evidence, Vilsack hinted that rural America, which voted overwhelmingly Republican, is losing its influence.

“There’s a huge communication gap” between farmers and the food-eating public, he said.

The secretary has a point. Getting a farm bill passed in an election year is tough, but farm interests have always been able to get it done—until now. On the other hand, farmers, ranchers and rural America have always voted in greater numbers than their percentage of the population might suggest.  Agriculture votes, and always has. This habit can yield positive results if we don’t get distracted.

Vilsack suggests a good old-fashioned soul searching. He mentions that rural America does have assets—things like ample land for food production and recreation. Whether he’s right or not, that’s always a good idea. Let me add that agriculture has a message to sell, but not enough of us are active in promoting it. If rural America—and rural Texas—do not use the technology and the power of our own ideas to communicate with urban folks, relevance could become an issue.

“We’ve got something to market here,” Vilsack said. “We’ve got something to be proactive about. Let’s spend our time and our resources and our energy doing that, and I think if we do we’re going to have a lot of young people who want to be part of that future.”



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Mike B.    
Texas Panhandle  |  December, 17, 2012 at 09:10 AM

He'll find out how irrelevant rural America is when he can't get anything to eat at his supermarkets. I personally believe that the government is more concerned with keepin food prices low than it is with supporting the American farmer. The farm program has done the same thing to the American farmer that it has done to welfare. It's made a class of people who are dependent on the government for a portion of their living. I think the best thing that could happen to the American farmer would be for the government to get out of farming all together and let the price of food, cotton and other agricultural products be decided by a free market. The government can't afford all these social programs its paying for and the farm program is a good place to cut out. The problem is that the farmer has come to believe that he needs the government program to survive. With true market driven prices instead of artificially supported government pricing, he wouldn't need the farm program to survive.

Mark Fontenot    
Ville Platte , Louisiana  |  December, 17, 2012 at 09:47 AM

I agree with Mike , I have asked people from metro areas where does there food come from and overwhelmingly they reply and I quote : From the store . The social programs in america have gotten out of hand people continually want but have no clue where it came from are what it took to make it . The government as a whole is practically holding the nation hostage with free stuff so to say . Open a free market system and cut out the free bies and watch America first go into shock then get up and go to work . Just my thoughts

BJ    
Missouri  |  December, 17, 2012 at 10:45 AM

No doubt most of us in agriculture would agree with you both. The big problem as I see it, is how are we going to keep the speculators out of the food chain. We all have seen how their involvement has affected oil prices. If that happens with food prices, the farmer will be blamed without reaping the benefits. Granted, a lot of our food supply is perishable, and won't tolerate speculators, but how about the non-perishable commodities. Speculators are already involved in the commodities, and we all know what that has done....prices keep rising to the consumer,yet the farmer doesn't see the profit-taking, for the most part. Agriculture is walking a thin line between making a decent living and going further into debt to stay in operation, but government handouts are certainly not the answer. Perhaps Mr. Vilsack's comment about agriculture being irrelevant is describing how most of us voted. Our votes were absolutely irrelevant, and the Democrats are jumping for joy that the votes of those of us in agriculture no longer count !!!!

Kevin    
Wyoming  |  December, 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Hey, one more guy in the amen corner! Perhaps someone more versed in agriculture economics than me can correct me where I'm wrong here, but I agree with Mike B. What would happen if our uber-smart federal government butted out of farming altogether? We all know how good they are at getting involved in the "free" market (think Solyndra, Chevy Volt). The idea of subsidies has been sold in the past as price control for the common good. If the government offers money for farming (or not farming) commodity A, then drastic fluctuations in the price are avoided from year-to-year. Isn't that it in a nutshell? What about cattle, pork, chickens, etc.? Last I checked, they don't receive subsidies, and the price is relatively static. Sure, the price of the live animal moves, and that change is reflected at the supermarket or steakhouse. But that is also controlled by consumer demand relative to price (i.e., perceived value). Maybe that free market thing works after all...

BJ    
Missouri  |  December, 17, 2012 at 01:34 PM

No doubt most of us in agriculture would agree with you both. The big problem as I see it, is how are we going to keep the speculators out of the food chain. We all have seen how their involvement has affected oil prices. If that happens with food prices, the farmer will be blamed without reaping the benefits. Granted, a lot of our food supply is perishable, and won't tolerate speculators, but how about the non-perishable commodities. Speculators are already involved in the commodities, and we all know what that has done....prices keep rising to the consumer,yet the farmer doesn't see the profit-taking, for the most part. Agriculture is walking a thin line between making a decent living and going further into debt to stay in operation, but government handouts are certainly not the answer. Perhaps Mr. Vilsack's comment about agriculture being irrelevant is describing how most of us voted. Our votes were absolutely irrelevant, and the Democrats are jumping for joy that the votes of those of us in agriculture no longer count !!!!

BJ    
Missouri  |  December, 17, 2012 at 04:54 PM

No doubt most of us in agriculture would agree with you both. The big problem as I see it, is how are we going to keep the speculators out of the food chain. We all have seen how their involvement has affected oil prices. If that happens with food prices, the farmer will be blamed without reaping the benefits. Granted, a lot of our food supply is perishable, and won't tolerate speculators, but how about the non-perishable commodities. Speculators are already involved in the commodities, and we all know what that has done....prices keep rising to the consumer,yet the farmer doesn't see the profit-taking, for the most part. Agriculture is walking a thin line between making a decent living and going further into debt to stay in operation, but government handouts are certainly not the answer. Perhaps Mr. Vilsack's comment about agriculture being irrelevant is describing how most of us voted. Our votes were absolutely irrelevant, and the Democrats are jumping for joy that the votes of those of us in agriculture no longer count !!!!

P D    
PNW  |  December, 17, 2012 at 07:30 PM

I bet agriculture would not be so irrelavent if we decided not to milk the cows for a day, decided not to bring corn, wheat ,or soybeans to our ports and grain terminals, or if we decided not to sell any beef for a day, or better yet lets not pay taxes. Just remember that on USDA website it states that 46 million people are on food stamps, and on Fish and Wildlife website it tells us not to feed the animals so that they dont become dependant, so what is it, are we are arent we relevant, but maybe the question should be when and how do we wont them to know how relevant we really are!!!!

Sam    
Ohio  |  December, 20, 2012 at 08:11 AM

The problem with the current administration and the secretary in particular is that they consider the entire public sector as "irrelevant". Please understand we are irrelevant to this administration because they cannot count on us to keep THEM in office so therefore they have no intention of paying agriculture bribes (or extortion if you like) in return for our votes. The trend that the secretary is endorsing is unsustainable because at some point their will not be enough private sector to fund all of the democratic deadbeats er voters.

Jeff    
MO  |  December, 21, 2012 at 12:02 PM

In the Nov. 30th edition of Dairy Herd Network the poll question was: Should the Presidential elections be decided by popular vote? 72% of you said yes. We are becoming irrelevant because we are becoming more and more ignorant. The new crop of farmers have been educated in the latest farming techniques and in the traditions of farming but they don’t have a clue how the political system works and that is the system that makes the rules and laws that they must work under. If you don't understand what the Electoral College is and what it does then you don't understand that it is the only reason your vote matters at all. Without the Electoral College CA alone could pick the president. If you want to be more relevant be more educated first. Then you can have reasonable discussions with those who don’t understand what we do or are opposed to what we do. But why would anyone want to listen to someone complain about the system when they clearly have no idea how and why the system works the way it does?

Jay    
Ohio  |  December, 21, 2012 at 12:05 PM

"Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country" From WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN, speech at the Democratic national convention, Chicago, Illinois, July 8, 1896. Well on Democrat in history actually knew something. Rual America will always be the most relevant sector of the country, the biggest reason for war is the lack of food, which is what will happen if we destroy rual America. I do believe the administration finds Rual America to be Irrelevant, the choose to do the opposit of what rual america wants. As Rual americans we need to take our message to our city cousins no matter how far removed and tell them what we do. As for goverment hand outs untill we teach men to fish instead of giving them fish we will continue to go in debt. The federal Goverment must cut spending on public programs, that will put america back to work. By making people need to work and not rely on the Goverment. Instead of food stamps maney should go to drug rehab if any where, in my neck of the woods its not that we dont have jobs its that we dont have workers willing to do the jobs and pass a drug test.

Jay    
Ohio  |  December, 21, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Yes the Electoral College has its place, it stops one state from having to much power George W Bush was elected by the Elector College and not Popular vote it protects Rual america. What we must do is take our message to the Cities and spread the word on why Food safety and American Food is important.

Richard Rogers    
Pownal, VT  |  December, 24, 2012 at 09:44 AM

I don't think it's a question of rural America being irrelevant. I think it's a case of rural America being taken for granted. We feed this nation and do such a good job of it American's have one of the lowest food bills on the planet and can always find what they want in the grocery store. Unfortunately, more and more of that food is coming from third world countries that don't always adhere to America's health and safety standards and many of whom hate Americans. I'm afraid this country is due for a very rude wake-up call.

Ron    
Wisconsin  |  December, 24, 2012 at 09:48 AM

Jay, that is my favorite quote of all time. The current administration and most of Congress don't care about rural America because most of their votes come from urban people, who are not only dependent on the government for welfare, food stamps and bailing out their employers when there's an economic crisis, but they made up 51% or more of the voters in November. Rural America will continue to lose influence as those dependent on government handouts grows. How do we stem the tide? I don't have all the answers, but the last thing we should do is get rid of the Electoral College--that would only accelerate the decline in rural America's power and influence.


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