By former USDA Secretary John R. Block
Last week, I – along with 2 other former Secretaries of Agriculture (Ann Veneman and Dan Glickman) – attended the portrait unveiling ceremony of Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture. Vilsack served as Secretary of Agriculture for 8 years. It’s very rare for any Cabinet member to last that long. I was in my 6th year when I left.
Throughout his tenure, Secretary Vilsack has been a strong supporter of biotechnology, agriculture trade, and the renewable fuel standard. Those are just some of the issues that are very important to our industry.
I think we are all aware of President-Elect Donald Trump’s criticism of China’s trade manipulation. Negotiating better trade deals with China will be a delicate process. For more than a year now, the Obama Administration has been pushing China to fix some of their trade restricting policies. Did you know that U.S. beef has been shut out of China for 13 years? They need to open up acceptance of some biotech crops also. Two years ago, they rejected a number of shipments of distillers dried grain. China can be a problem, but let’s not forget that one-third of our soybean crop is shipped to China.
Serving the ag industry and the country is a never-ending challenge. Secretary Vilsack accomplished a lot, but there is always more to do. Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture will have his hands full. The Congress will begin writing the next Farm Bill and it is important that the Secretary of Agriculture have a strong voice. It can be hard the first year as the new team of Assistants and Undersecretaries are appointed and expected to lead the charge.
I know that in 1981, my first year when the 1981 Farm Bill was written, we didn’t have very much influence. The Congress took the lead, but in 1985 we were ready and succeeded in pushing through a number of important changes – including the Conservation Reserve Program and an end of the annual land set-aside program.
As this new Farm Bill is written, food and nutrition (food stamps, school lunch, etc.) need to stay married to the farm programs. Although food and nutrition spends more than 70% of the money in the ag bill, farm and food need to “hang together or they could both hang separately.” Farm influence in Congress needs all the help we can get.
I am hopeful that President-Elect Trump, with his new team at USDA, will cover our backs. After all, didn’t Ag and rural America elect our new President?
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 johnblockreports.com.