By Gene Hall
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.”