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John Block: This and That

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I will cover a list of issues today. I am encouraged to note that Secretary Vilsack made a wise suggestion to the House and Senate Ag Committees. He said they should change the “Farm Bill’s” name. He is right. We need to broaden support. I would go even further. The U.S. Department of Agriculture should have a name change. Call it the U.S. Department of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry. USDA provides all kinds of services and support.

Last week, at the 30th anniversary of the Dr. Norman Borlaug World Food Prize meeting, Secretary Vilsack said that agriculture in its broadest sense is about national security. In his speech, he pointed out that his concern is whether we are prepared “to embrace science.” “It’s not just about food security, nutrition, or poverty reduction, it’s about national security.” I believe it is time to give the USDA the respect it deserves.

In the paper last week, I was reading about the devastation from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina, where 1.8 million chickens and 4,800 hogs were drowned, farmsteads and livestock housing were under water, and crops were destroyed. While that was happening, I was in Illinois, driving our corn combine and bringing in a great crop. Sometimes, we are not grateful enough compared to others who suffer.

Another good step in U.S.-Cuban relations: if you go to Cuba now, you can bring back as many Cuban cigars, and even Cuban rum, as you can carry. We have had a restriction of $100 worth of cigars, but President Obama lifted that.

Last issue – this is worth noting. Our fiscal year ended October 1. We closed out last year where our national debt soared 34%. Our debt just keeps piling up. Revenue rose less than 1% and spending shot up 5%. I don’t know how long our country can keep living like this. I know my farm couldn’t.

Be careful and be safe on the farm this harvest.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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