Tom Vilsack (file photo)

Out-going U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has some suggestions for farmers and others who will lobby congress about items in the next Farm Bill.

“We faced a very difficult challenge with the recent Farm Bill because the conversation started something like this: ‘We’ve got to save $23 billion,'” Vilsack says. “That was the first thing out of the box. The powers that be decided that saving money was the most important aspect of the Farm Bill.”

Vilsack says, as a result, corn and soybean farmers from the Midwest were “pitted against” southern farmers who raise cotton and produce sugar as the 2014 Farm Bill was written. Vilsack is urging groups in the farm sector to be more vocal advocates of federal crop insurance subsidies and other USDA programs that provide grants for rural development. Key members of congress say negotiations on the 2018 Farm Bill could begin later THIS month.

“So it’s going to be incredibly important for us to start the conversation with: ‘What is the need in rural America?’ because rural America is an important place. It’s where we get our food. It impacts our water. It’s our feed stock for our energy sources. It’s where we recreate. It’s our military families and, oh yeah, it gives everybody else in the country the ability to do something other than farming because we’re tremendously productive,” Vilsack says. “It’s an important place. It deserves to have a conversation, first and foremost, as to what the need is.”

Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, has been the nation’s top ag official for the past eight years. In 1889, Grover Cleveland was the first president to include an agriculture secretary in his cabinet. There have been 30 ag secretaries since then, five of whom came from Iowa. “Tama Jim” Wilson served three presidents, from 1898 to 1913. Edwin Meredith, founder of the Des Moines-based Meredith publishing company, served a year in President Wilson’s cabinet. Henry C. Wallace and his son, Henry A. Wallace, also did stints as the country’s agriculture secretary.