Vilsack: New White House report highlights need for a food, farm and jobs bill
By Tom Vilsack
This week, the White House released a new report showing the critical need for congressional passage of a new food, farm and jobs bill. This comprehensive report highlights how the thriving business of agriculture is a cornerstone of America’s economy, creating jobs and boosting opportunity.
Agricultural production and its related sectors contributed $743 billion to U.S. gross domestic product in 2011, accounting for nearly 5 percent of economic output. Today, about one out of every 12 jobs in the U.S. are connected in some way to agriculture.
Meanwhile, driven by the productivity of our farmers and ranchers, agricultural exports reached their highest mark ever in 2013 at more than $140 billion. Due in part to trade promotion programs in the farm bill, the five-year period from 2009 to 2013 is the strongest in history for agricultural exports. Compared to the previous five-year period, the U.S. is exporting an average of 4 million tons more bulk commodities each year. These exports alone support more than a million jobs.
A new farm bill would give producers the tools they need to continue fueling agriculture to new heights, while promoting quality U.S. products abroad. Ultimately, as shown in this week’s report, those efforts have a positive impact across our entire economy.
At the same time, the White House report notes continuing economic challenges in rural areas that would be addressed, in part, by investments in the new farm bill. Eighty-five percent of persistent poverty counties in America — counties where poverty has been high for decades — are in rural areas. And between 2010 and 2012, rural America actually lost population.
A new farm bill would provide needed investment in rural infrastructure that would create jobs and boost quality of life in rural America.
It would invest in the growing bio-based economy that holds a promising future for our small towns — both through the creation of clean, renewable energy and the manufacturing of advanced bio-based products. It would strengthen conservation activities on America’s farms and ranches that expand opportunity for outdoor recreation and help to boost income in rural communities. All of these activities would help to revitalize rural areas.
And a new farm bill would provide critical nutrition assistance for American families who are working hard but struggling to make ends meet.
For more than two years, the Obama administration has advocated for passage of a comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs bill.
This week’s report is just another reminder: Americans can’t be left without a farm bill any longer. The stakes for our national economy, our agricultural production, and our rural communities are simply too high for inaction — and Congress should finish its work on the farm bill without delay.
Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the former governor of Iowa.