U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is describing 2014 as a year of big challenges, big issues and big accomplishments for farming. The former Iowa governor says one of the biggest challenges for farmers and ranchers was the effect of supply and demand on markets and prices.

A smaller supply of pork and beef led to higher prices and some consumers turning to other food choices. “And a bumper crop of other commodities 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,” Vilsack said. Those other commodities that dropped in price included two of the biggest crops in Iowa — corn and soybeans.

One of the bigger accomplishments and challenges of 2014 was implementing the new Farm Bill. Vilsack believes the USDA 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 4.2 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,” Vilsack said.

One of the good things about the Farm Bill, according to Vilsack, 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,” Vilsack said.

The Ag Secretary believes President Obama’s executive action on immigration this past November could help farmers keep the workers they need. Vilsack estimates it will impact up to 400,000 individuals who are working in agriculture.

As for 2015, Vilsack says trade will be critically important for creating new and expanded opportunities for U.S. agriculture and rural America. Vilsack says those opportunities include gaining access to huge, growing and lucrative Asian markets that represent one third of all world trade.