(Editor’s Note: I served in the US Department of Agriculture as Director of the Office of Rural Development Policy.  Likewise, worked for Members of Congress who served on House of Representatives Agriculture Committee and the Public Works Committee that handled legislation related to economic development.) 

It is outrageous the person who is charged as the number one advocate for rural America would say “It’s becoming less and less relevant.”  That is exacting what Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told a farm forum in Washington over the weekend.

Even worst he based his reasoning on politics.  Vilsack said rural Americans need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.  This came after Republican Mitt Romney won 61 percent of rural voters last month and President Obama was backed by 37 percent.

It appears Secretary Vilsack is looking for a scapegoat as to why his leadership was unable to get a farm bill through Congress in an election year.  “It isn’t just the differences of policy… but that Congress doesn’t understand farm issues the Secretary said.  “There is a huge communication gap between farms and the food-eating public”, he said.  Well whose fault is that?

The Agriculture Secretary should get to Capitol Hill and fill that gap.  He should educate the Members and staff about rural America.  That is the way it used to work.

More distributing to me is how Vilsack has failed rural America in other ways.  Particularly when it is well known he has made revitalization of rural America a priority.  His own Department says about 50 percent of rural counties have lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.

Secretary Vilsack should be advocating strong new public policy to address the current and past plight of non-farm rural American…in places like West Virginia.

It has been the rural development groups making the case for a strong Rural Development Title in the Farm Bill not Secretary Vilsack.  Last August these organizations sent a letter to Congress attempting to make policy changes to benefit non-farm rural America.  Vilsack backed their efforts but he is the one charged by various congressional acts (going back to 1972 and before) to standup and fight for rural America not just back the efforts of others.

The sad part of my outrage is that when reading the rural development titles of both the Senate and House farm bills nothing has changed.  It is just minor tinkering around the edges.

When are we going to get leadership at the US Department of Agriculture who will take serious what Congress has ask them to do and become an advocate for rural America?



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