Twenty Fourteen was a year of big challenges, big issues and big accomplishments for farming and the U-S Department of Agriculture. That’s according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who says one of the biggest challenges for farmers and ranchers was the effect of supply and demand on markets and prices.
“Having too little supply of pork and beef with higher prices resulting in consumers beginning to make choices and a bumper crop of other commodities that have brought the prices from fairly high levels down to levels that could potentially trigger some of the safety net programs at USDA in terms of the Farm Bill.”
Those other commodities that dropped in price were soybeans, corn and rice.
One of the bigger accomplishments and challenges of twenty fourteen was implementing the new Farm Bill. Vilsack says U-S-D-A did a remarkable job of instituting so many of the complex provisions of the new law.
“Starting with the Disaster Assistance Program now 465,000 producers receiving over four point two billion dollars of assistance. The development of the dairy margin protection program. The new safety net programs. The agricultural risk coverage program. New crop insurance opportunities for specialty crops.”
And he says one of the many good things about the farm bill was the way it got passed.
“It underscores what can happen when people are willing to compromise, when people are willing to find middle ground as we were able to work with Republicans and Democrats on both sides in the House and in the Senate to try to ultimately get this bill done and the President signed the bill in February of 2014.”
Getting different groups together for a common goal was what happened at this past summer’s Rural Opportunity Investment Conference. Interested parties came to Washington to talk about the need for credit and capital to invest in rural America.
“We simply do not have the resources to do all of the projects that need to be done. Whether it’s water and wastewater treatment facilities, or electric projects, or expansion of broadband, or housing or business development. So we decided that we would try to attract partners. Six hundred folks attended our conference. CoBank, which is part of our farm credit administration, basically stepped up to the plate and said here is ten billion dollars that we’ll commit over time to infrastructure projects in rural America. The farm credit system, a number of farm credit banks put up to a hundred and fifteen million dollars collectively into a new rural business investment company designed to provide equity financing and funding for small business development in rural America.”
Vilsack says something else that could assist Rural America is President Obama’s executive action on immigration this past November that could help farmers keep the workers they need.
“It probably will impact potentially as many as 250 to 400 thousand individuals who are working in agriculture doing some hard, tough labor that’s very essential to the future of agriculture very essential to our ability to maximize production and productivity in American agriculture.”
As for 2015, Vilsack says trade will be critically important for creating new and expanded opportunities for U-S agriculture and rural America.
“Congress will potentially be confronted with trade promotion authority giving the President the ability to fast track trade deals and we have hopefully the ending of negotiations on the trans-Pacific partnership, which will open up enormous opportunities for American agriculture.”
And those opportunities include, Vilsack says, gaining access to huge, growing and lucrative Asian markets that represent one third of all world trade.