Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a
former two-term Democratic governor of Iowa,
spoke recently with Cityview about agricultural
issues during a campaign event outside of
Jefferson for his wife, Christie, who is
seeking the 4th District Congressional seat
in a race with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.
Photo by Douglas Burns |
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says
President Barack Obama’s commitment to chasing
down and cultivating new and stronger foreign
markets for American grain and livestock is
paying dividends in Iowa and elsewhere in farm
“When the president came into office he recognized
the way to keep the economy going was to increase
exports, so he challenged everyone to double
exports within five years,” Vilsack said. “We
took that challenge to heart at USDA.”
Vilsack, a former two-term Democratic governor
of Iowa, spoke recently with Cityview about
agricultural issues during a campaign event
outside of Jefferson for his wife, Christie,
who is seeking the 4th District Congressional
seat in a race with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.
Since 2009, farmers and ranchers are set to
deliver three of the four highest levels of
U.S. agricultural exports in the nation’s history,
according to USDA. In fiscal year 2012, the
latest forecast sees $134.5 billion in U.S.
farm exports, the second-highest level ever
and $3.5 billion greater than the previous forecast,
During his tenure at USDA Vilsack helped identify
20 countries with greatest potential for advanced
export opportunities where U.S. goods are concerned.
“We really pushed it hard,” Vilsack said. “We
had more trade shows, more reverse trade shows,
more exchanges. And the numbers would tell you
that the last three years have been the best
three years collectively in ag exports — both
in terms of volume and in value — that we’ve
ever had. Even this year, as tough as this year
is going to be, we’re still going to have a
very strong year, maybe the second-best year
we’ve ever had.”
Vilsack said the United States has seen extraordinary
trade increases with China.
“Vietnam has emerged as a significant trading
partner,” Vilsack said. “The Korean free trade
agreement has made it a whole lot more popular
for American ag products.”
South Africa and Indonesia are serving up great
opportunities, he said.
“We continue to see increased activity in Canada
and Mexico,” Vilsack said.
He said Japan is another key partner.
Vilsack said every billion dollars in agricultural
sales supports 78 jobs in the United States.
“It does indeed make a difference in terms of
unemployment,” Vilsack said. “And I think the
future for us is bright.”
The middle classes emerging in Asia are interested
in the proteins that can be created in the United
States. This bodes well for farmers in Iowa,
“It’s a long-term positive view in my opinion,”
In July, Lyon County, in the far northwest part
of the state, posted a 2.7 percent unemployment
rate — Mills a 3.2 percent rate, Shelby 3.4
percent and much of conservative western Iowa
was well under 4 percent unemployment. According
to Iowa Workforce Development, the seasonally-adjusted
unemployment rate increased slightly in July
to 5.3. Meanwhile, the U.S. unemployment rate
for July stood at 8.3 percent.
If the president is going to be blamed for the
national unemployment numbers, does he deserve
some credit for the more favorable rates in
many of Iowa’s counties?
“I think he deserves credit for a stronger rural
economy than we’ve seen in a long time,” Vilsack
Vilsack said USDA also has worked aggressively
under Obama to expand local and regional food
“Direct-to-consumer sales now is a multi-billion-dollar
industry,” Vilsack said.
The president’s support of the renewable-fuels
industry lifts the economy as well, the agriculture
“We spend, the most conservative study I’ve
seen, 25 cents less per gallon because we have
a renewable-fuel industry,” Vilsack said. “I’ve
seen studies linking it as high as 80 cents
to $1.37 a gallon less at the pump today.” CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.