By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Saying he's frustrated by the lack of a Farm Bill, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urged Congress to pass the policy, saying it's about much more than agriculture or food stamps.
Vilsack spoke in Lincoln at the Rural Futures Conference. He address the decline in rural population, and said that has consequences beyond food production. He said if rural areas do not remain vital, the nation will lose out on energy production, even military personnel.
"I wish everyone understood what the people in this room understand," he said.
He said food production must increase 70 percent in the next 40 years. He said rural areas have the potential to be the source of energy production and the raw materials that are used to build nearly everything we use.
He said if the phrase "Made in America" is to return, it will be with biomass productions produced in rural areas.
But without a farm policy, he said there will be challenges getting there.
"I can't tell you how frustrated I am with this farm bill," he said.
He said too many people paint it as a debate between farm policy and SNAP, the food stamps program. He used his address as a reminder that there are economic development and infrastructure programs contained in the bill.
Vilsack said he was hopeful but not optimistic the bill would pass soon.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said Congress is locked not in gridlock, but "paralysis." Fortenberry, a Republican, agreed with Vilsack that the farm bill should pass, but wasn't sure what it would take to get there.
The lecture was part of the Heuermann series, sponsored by central Nebraska popcorn farmer Keith Heuermann.