Five former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture helped kick off this week’s World Food Prize events in Des Moines. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack spent eight years as President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack said it’s important to say to the rest of the country agriculture is the “most significant industry” in the U.S.

“You’re talking about 23 million people who are employed by the food and agriculture industry,” Vilsack said. “…You’re not just dealing with a small segment of society here. You’re dealing with something that impacts everyone every single day.”

Dan Glickman, a former Kansas congressman, served as U.S. Ag Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration. He said farmers must do better at explaining the benefits of genetically-modified crops to more vocal consumers.

“People who do want to know what’s in their food, how it’s produced, where it’s produced, whether it’s safe, who grew it and all those kind of things,” Glickman said. “And that power of the consumers is going to impact a lot more players in agriculture. Farmers and ranchers have to be a big part of it.”

Mike Johanns, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. Senator, served as Ag Secretary during George W. Bush’s administration. He said some of the answers to the debate about water quality will come with advances in technology and equipment.

“Twenty years from now or even 10 years from now we’ll look back and we’ll look at our agricultural practices today and we’ll ask ourselves: ‘Why did we do that?'” Johanns said. “You see the sprayers out in the field. You see the airplaces and all of a sudden they’re dropping whatever they’re dropping onto the fields. I think we are working our way to a day where science is going to help us solve these problems.”

Johanns and Glickman made their comments during taping of an “Iowa Press” program that will air October 27 on Iowa Public Television.

(Reporting by Brownfield’s Mark Dorencamp; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)