Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst says she called out U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack over the happy picture his department is portraying when it comes to the current state of the farm economy.

“A week or so back he had met with a group and was trying to paint a very rosy picture of the farm economy — but that’s not what I am hearing — and I really did press him on that issue,” Ernst says.

The Republican from Red Oak says the things she sees in the state goes against what the former Democrat Iowa governor is saying about the farm situation.

“Right now we see corn is at $3 dollars and under (a bushel), I’ve seen that at my own hometown at the Merch in Red Oak. It is really hard for our farmers to get ahead with commodity prices being so low,” Ernst says. ” So, I will continue to press him on that.” Ernst says her concern is that the U.S.D.A.regulations and programs aren’t helping smaller farmers.

“He tried to tout a number of programs that U.S.D.A. has, but again I think the things that they promote — the GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration Rule) is a great example of that — it really does inhibit some of those small beginning farmers from even getting a fair start,” Ernst says.

Ernst was asked if Vilsack is doing a good job as Ag Secretary. She focused her answer on the department and not Vilsack. “I’m not going to say yes or no about his role as ag secretary,” Ernst says. “But what I will say is that I think U.S.D.A. as a whole is trying to paint an optimistic rosy picture of what is going on, but in reality that is not what is going on. And I hear that every day in Iowa.”

Ernst says farmers need less government regulation not more. She referred back to the GIPSA Rule. “What I fear is that this will cut out those small farmers, those small operations, they won’t be able to engage in the contracts like we see some of the larger packers doing. So, this is an issue that has been brought up by the Iowa Pork Producers, they have spoken to me about this, they have great concerns there. As, well as some of those packing houses,” according to Ernst. She says the packing houses want to have a supply of livestock from a variety of sources and are worried the rule will prevent that.

Ernst made her comments during her weekly conference call with reporters.

A spokesperson with the U.S.D.A. sent Radio Iowa this statement in response to Ernst:

Secretary Vilsack is a tireless champion for American agriculture, and has said several times recently that ‘it is always the wrong bet to bet against the American farmer, rancher, and producer.’ Median farm family household income has held steady at historic highs for the last two years, as a direct result of the hard work and good management by our farm families. Meanwhile, farm debt-to-asset ratios are near record lows, showing the underlying fundamental strength of the American agriculture.
This is why yesterday Secretary Vilsack expressed cautious optimism about the state of the agricultural economy, but at the same time he understands the challenges many producers are going through right now because of prices and oversupply in some parts of the sector. USDA recognizes that 10 percent of U.S. farms are highly or extremely leveraged, and that is why we have used every dollar of our farm loan authority and every last dollar of our CCC authority to provide help and assistance to those who need it. Specifically, USDA enrolled 1.76 million farmers in the new Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, which have provided $5.3 billion in financial assistance for crop year 2014, to more than one million farms. The past seven years have been the strongest in history for agricultural exports, while the past five years have been the best in history for median farm household income. Census data shows that incomes in rural America grew by more than 3 percent last year, on pace with income in metro areas. Rural communities are also beginning to see population growth, a dramatic fall in poverty and hunger, and more jobs in the last two years than at any point since 2007. There is concern, and the Secretary expressed that, but there is also cautious optimism. And that is why we have invested more resources than any prior Administration in the future of America’ rural communities, especially our young people and our new and beginning farmers.”