Here at USDA, we work every day to help American farmers. It is important to us to hear how we are doing and how we can improve, and that is why I was happy to have the chance to speak with a group of local producers in Louisiana recently.
These Rural Roundtable sessions are being held across the country by senior Administration officials on behalf of the White House Rural Council to explore ways federal, state and local officials can work together to improve economic conditions and create jobs, and to increase awareness of USDA programs and services.
On August 1, I met with 35 Louisiana farmers and ranchers in Thibodaux, Louisiana, to hear their thoughts about agriculture and conservation. Some of these folks traveled up to 5 hours to participate!
We asked attendees five questions about their biggest concerns and their opinions about the role USDA should play in their livelihoods. A microphone was passed around the room until everyone had the chance to participate. One by one, these men and women shared their concerns.
It was heartwarming to hear farmers speak proudly of being third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation farmers. One family had been working the land since 1795. It was easy to see the passion these people feel for what they do.
Many were worried about who would take over their farms when they are gone.
“We need to keep young people in farming,” said one farmer. Another added, “Young people want to go back to the land, but don’t know how to begin and they don’t have the resources.”
Others were very worried about salt water intrusion on their farms and ranches along the coast. “Salt water has impacted irrigation and drinking water for cattle,” said one farmer.
Still, there were great stories of conservation success.
“Our farm has had a total, complete turnaround, for the good, since we started working with NRCS,” said one cattle/citrus producer. (NRCS is the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a USDA agency that works with producers to implement voluntary conservation practices on private lands across the country.)
This gentleman went on to describe some of the conservation practices installed on his farm. He enthusiastically explained the tremendous value he has seen from rotational grazing, one such practice.
Some of the other topics covered at this roundtable included regulatory barriers, crop prices, conservation program funding, outreach to minorities and high farm expenses.
All of these men and women help form the backbone of American agriculture. I am proud of their hard work and perseverance and I am honored to serve them.
Here at USDA, we want to know what’s on your mind—and what works and what does not work with our agricultural policies and programs. If you do not have a chance to attend one of our Rural Roundtable sessions, please visit http://usda.gov/open to offer your comments.