USDA Secretary Discusses Diversification, Conservation and Trade at NFU Convention
March 10, 2016
South Dakota Farmers Union members were in attendance as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, spoke at the National Farmers Union Convention held March 5-8, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minn.
"What an amazing opportunity for those of us who work in production agriculture and live in rural communities throughout South Dakota that are supported by agriculture to hear firsthand Vilsack's message," said Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union President.
Vilsack, who is also a Farmers Union member, celebrated U.S. agriculture's uniqueness and called on Congress to act on food labeling, and advocated for increased trade with Cuba.
"It is important to focus, not just solely on large-scale production agriculture, but it is important to continue to focus on diversifying opportunities for all sizes of operations," he said, receiving thunderous applause from NFU's diverse membership.
“What an amazing opportunity for those of us who work in production agriculture and live in rural communities throughout South Dakota that are supported by agriculture to hear firsthand Vilsack’s message.” Doug Sombke, S.D. Farmers Union president
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Prices for major commodities have fallen in recent years, but Vilsack believes investments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will equip rural America to weather the difficult times. Among the items he listed: renewable fuels initiatives, new and beginning farmer education programs, crop insurance, rural development grants and conservation.
Vilsack also called on lawmakers to act on labeling issues currently facing the country.
He explained that it would be "chaotic" to have state-by-state rules surrounding the labeling of food derived from genetically modified crops. This could lead to consumer confusion, higher food prices, and even access issues, Vilsack said, noting, "Congress needs to address this, and they need to address it now."
The secretary added that it is possible to have a mandatory process that uses a "smart label" to balance a consumer's right to know without punishing farmers or conveying the wrong impression about food safety.
"If Congress is unwilling to make these tough decisions…then delegate the responsibility to the Department of Agriculture," Vilsack said. "We'll be happy to make the tough decision."
Vilsack told the group that Congress needs to act on another tough issue, too, by removing the Cuba trade embargo. The United States "should absolutely own that market," he said of Cuba.
Thirty members of South Dakota Farmers Union are attending the organizations' national convention where they participate in policy discussions, workshops and have the opportunity to network with agriculture producers from across the nation.