Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reviewed agriculture in 2011 during an exclusive interview with Farm Futures' editor Jason Vance. Vilsack says that 2011 was a good year for agriculture with net farm income over $100 billion for the first time, which even adjusting for inflation farm income was at its best level in over 40 years.
"Part of the reason is that we've seen a fairly aggressive effort of everyone including those of us at USDA to promote the American brand around the world," Vilsack said. "We had a record year in ag exports with $137.4 billion of ag sales being made to other countries. That helped to support over a million jobs and certainly improved bottom lines for farmers, ranchers and producers."
Even so Vilsack admits there were some very large challenges for agriculture to overcome in 2011.
"You know we did deal with 55 million acres of our land that was impacted by natural disasters; drought, flood, hurricanes and fires," Vilsack said. "The result of that is underscoring the importance of that safety net. Crop insurance, the SURE program for crops, the Livestock Indemnity Program; they are all extremely important to provide relief and help and assistance to folks during a tough time."
Looking forward to 2012, Vilsack talked about some of the priorities that need to be included in the next farm bill.
"It starts with the safety net," Vilsack said. "We've talked a little bit about the difficult year we've had in many parts of the country; input costs are high and it's going to be necessary for us to have a system that acknowledges that and gives farmers enough help to get them through a tough year."
Other parts of the farm bill that Vilsack emphasized were incentives for conservation, promotion of research and development, providing credit for farmers and ranchers when commercial banks are unwilling to do so. He also says that trade and energy policy are areas that need to be addressed.
"We're obviously faced with reduced budgets and we're going to be challenged at USDA to strengthen our service notwithstanding the fact that we may have fewer resources and to be creative about how we use those resources," Vilsack said. "I'm proud of the work that's been done here. I think we've had a good year and obviously we want to build on it. We have great partners in those who live, work and raise their families in rural areas and we look forward to an even better year next year."
To listen to the complete conversation between Secretary Vilsack and Jason Vance use the audio player on this page.