Vilsack: Expanding opportunity for rural Americans

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In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama outlined his plan to move our economy forward by expanding opportunity for all Americans. Recognizing the role that agriculture continues to play in our nation’s economic recovery, the President said, “Today in America, […] a farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.”

America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters, and those working in supporting industries, are to be commended for these accomplishments. They are expanding and growing markets around the world, spurring innovation, and creating jobs and opportunity on and off the farm, even in the face of uncertainty. The future of rural America depends on their continued leadership, and we must make sure they have the tools they need to continue to grow.

This week, I sat down with agriculture stakeholders and local elected officials in St. Louis and Columbus to discuss the essential role of innovation in the American agriculture success story and how to take action to continue that forward momentum in the Midwest and across the country.

Both Missouri and Ohio are two of many states where agriculture shines. In Missouri, agriculture exports have increased by more than a billion dollars over the past five years, contributing to a national record $140.9 billion in farm and ranch exports in 2013. Agriculture is Ohio’s largest industry, all-told contributing nearly $94 billion to the state’s economy each year.

This kind of record growth and sustained success would not be possible without investments in groundbreaking research taking place at Land Grant institutions like University of Missouri, Lincoln University in Missouri, and the Ohio State University. Scientific breakthroughs have helped us increase production on the same amounts of land, using fewer inputs, and expanded our knowledge base to help farmers, ranchers and foresters tackle modern challenges.

Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research returns $20 to the economy. These are the kinds of investments we must continue to support—and the House’s action this week on a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill brings us one step closer towards making that a reality.

A new Farm Bill sets the foundation for a revitalized and renewed rural economy. It will allow USDA to carry out its vital work to support production agriculture as it continues along its path of record exports and farm income here at home. It will offer new opportunity for innovative research and fosters new and emerging industries, like biobased product manufacturing and local and regional food markets, which benefit America’s farmers, ranchers and foresters. Above all, a new Farm Bill will represent a renewed commitment to a future full of opportunity for those who live, work and raise their families in rural America.



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