Ag Secretary Discusses Farming and Rural Economy During House Hearing

Today, Department of Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack testified before the House Agriculture Committee on the state of the rural economy. During the four-hour meeting, Vilsack discussed a wide range of topics, including supply chain issues, employment, exports, COVID-19 relief funding, demand and price increases, underserved rural communities, the needs of specific farming sectors and the reauthorization of the farm bill, which expires next year.

“Our farm income is as good as it has been in the last eight years. We’ve had record exports,” Vilsack said at the start of his testimony. As lawmakers begin their work on farm bill reauthorization, he urged them to focus on fixing a particular issue: the rural extraction economy. It is the “heart of the challenge” that rural farmers have faced for a long time, the secretary said.

“An extraction economy is where we … take things from the land and rather than convert them and adding value [to products]in the rural areas where the resources [are grown], they are transported long distances to where they are ‘value added’ in some other location where opportunities and jobs are created,” he said. He advocated a “circular economy” where wealth is created and stays in rural areas.

“We learned during the pandemic that our system isn’t as resilient as we hoped it would be,” he explained. “A way to make it more resilient is to create local and regional opportunities. That’s one of the reasons we’re focused on expanding processing capacity at the local level so our livestock producers have the choice of local facilities that create local jobs and allow revenue and wealth to stay in the community.”