Secretary Vilsack Builds Stronger Relationship with National FFA, Urges National Officer Team to Get Involved in the Farm Bill Process
As dozens of representatives from businesses and organizations that support the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) listened yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent about 15 minutes in a Washington meeting room speaking directly to six college-age individuals. The six, from across the country, are this year’s National FFA Officer Team.
The Secretary attended yesterday’s winter meeting of the FFA Sponsor Board to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) deepening USDA’s involvement with the FFA and its education mission. But before sitting down for the signing ceremony, the Secretary talked to the officers about their role in creating economic opportunity in rural America.
He explained how blessed we are as a country to have the natural resources to produce a wide variety of products, but that we must meet the challenge to support agricultural operations of all sizes and raise the next generation of American farmers. The average age of America’s farmers is 57 and rising. While 50 million people live in rural America, just 2.2 million Americans farm, and 1.3 million of them produce “less than one percent” of what we consume. Of the remaining 900,000, two-thirds have sales of less than $250,000 a year, and the rest produce 85 percent of the product.
Vilsack also encouraged the FFA officers and their membership to seek out opportunities at USDA, noting that there are thousands of internships available in offices across the country, and opportunities to help “reacquaint the country with what we do.”
Finally, Secretary challenged the officers to contribute their thoughts on the makeup of the next Farm Bill – asking them to prepare, over the next 12 months, a Farm Bill report that he would look at personally and share with the rest of USDA’s leadership. “I want to hear from you. I expect to hear from you. It (the Farm Bill) is about you. You’ll be on the Earth a lot longer than me,” Vilsack said.
As he prepared to sign the MOU, the Secretary told the entire audience that USDA wants to work with the FFA to “convince young people that their future is agriculture.” He said that he wants to partner to revitalize the economy of rural America, and that for the young “rural options are not limited.” “Agriculture is at the center. Why would anybody want to be anywhere else? The power to change the world is where you all live, in farm fields and small towns.”