This past week, I had the chance to sit down with about 20 business leaders in central Illinois to hear their views on ways we can improve the nation’s economy, especially from the agriculture industry perspective. The meeting was part of a series of outreach efforts across the country this summer to rural Americans as part of the White House Business Council and the White House Rural Council.
I want to thank Tim McArdle of Brandt Consolidated, Inc., who leads a successful agri-business in Springield, IL that helps farmers adopt new technologies for their operations. We gathered representatives from many local businesses and had a frank and open discussion about the role of the Federal government in creating a business environment that encourages job growth and improves economic conditions in the agricultural sector and rural communities.
I listened to several recommendations that can be adopted without spending money or requiring huge amounts of staff hours. In fact, their thoughts about consolidating reports and simplifying government procedures would save money and reduce workload.
One of the issues we talked a lot about was the potential economic opportunities for the U.S. if the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are signed . I reiterated the Obama Administration and USDA’s commitment to improving trade prospects for the United States. These trade agreements are critical to U.S. farmers’ abilities to sell food in new markets. They will also open the door to new markets and new economic opportunities for other industries.
Another key issue we discussed was the Administration’s focus on developing domestic alternative fuel sources. Right now energy costs are cutting into everyone’s profit margins except the oil companies’, but there are solutions we can find in American agriculture and we’re working hard to advance those solutions. American farmers can produce our own energy to meet our nation’s fuel needs and protect our national security. We’re smart. We have the technology. We just need to finish putting the infrastructure in place so that we can create a market right here at home for next generation ethanol.
It was great to hear the confidence many of the participants had about the future of U.S. agriculture. Overall, the conversation was very encouraging. It was an honor to represent USDA on behalf of the White House Business Council. We know that many of the best ideas come from outside Washington, so I will be taking my notes back to my boss, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the chair of the recently announced White House Rural Council.