The closing general session of this year’s American Farm Bureau 94th annual meeting in Nashville, TN featured soaring and sober messages from the 2 featured speakers. Farm Bureau members heard a stirring keynote address by space shuttle astronaut Captain Mark Kelly. He described how hard work and perseverance helped him achieve his goals and how the same attitude has been at the forefront of his wife’s recovery from gunshot wounds to the head. Kelly is married to former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
But there was also a charge from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during his address that agriculture needs to find new, non-traditional ways to rebuild its declining political clout.
“In the last census 1,130 counties in America, over 50 percent of the rural counties in America, lost population,” he explained. “Sixteen percent of America’s population in rural America is the lowest percentage in our history. It’s pretty simple. Fewer people ultimately reflects itself in fewer people in Congress, in state legislatures, who understand and appreciate the challenges and the opportunities in rural America.”
Vilsack suggested agriculture consider support of controversial defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel as a non-conventional way to expand rural political influence.
“There may be some who have concerns about his position on Israel or on Iran. But let me tell you why I want Chuck Hagel. Because he’s from Nebraska and being from Nebraska he understands and appreciates the role of the bio-based economy. And he would be a secretary of defense that I think would probably be quite supportive of the notion that our military should be more dependent on domestically produced fuel and energy than on imported fuel and energy. He could be a secretary of defense who could champion our commitment to the bio-based economy.”
Vilsack said the decline in ag’s clout was evident as 2012 ended with no 5 year farm bill.[audio:https://www.hoosieragtoday.com//wp-content/uploads//2013/01/Tom-Vilsack-at-AFBF-2013.mp3|titles=Tom Vilsack at AFBF 2013]