Ag Outlook Conference

March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block who is on vacation. This radio commentary is brought to you by the Renewable Fuels Association, Wal-Mart Stores, Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

Today, I want to talk about the Ag Outlook Conference held here in Washington, D.C. last week. Two thousand people attended as Secretary Vilsack opened the event with his address, followed by an open discussion of issues by 7 former Secretaries of Agriculture. I’ve never seen that many Secretaries of Agriculture in one room.

Secretary Vilsack’s remarks focused on some of the most important challenges that the ag industry faces. He did a good job.

Here are my thoughts on some of those issues.

Trade – trade is important because we export 30 percent of what we produce. As a nation, the U.S. runs a huge trade deficit. But not agriculture. We exported 140 billion dollars worth of products last year, running a big trade surplus. After years of delay, last year we got our trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama wrapped up. That will add more sales in the future.

Biofuels (ethanol, in particular) – 10 percent of our gasoline is home grown. With gas prices spiking toward $4 per gallon, thank the American farmer for holding the price back. We would be paying $4.50 per gallon if it wasn’t for ethanol.

Secretary Vilsack talked about the Farm Bill. I don’t think we know what the next bill will look like. These are exceptional times. We don’t have the money to spend on farm programs. It’s hard to justify spending when farm prices are as strong as they are today. We’re getting our money out of the market place. That’s the way it should be.

When you begin a free wheeling discussion with 7 former Secretaries of Agriculture, you really have no idea where it will lead. I was surprised and pleased to find that we were “singing from the same hymn book.” Our collective position was best expressed by the headline of a publication covering the Conference. It read:

“Former Ag Secretaries decry ‘hysteria’ over CAFO and GM crops.”

“Environmentalists who argue modern agriculture depletes the soil and threatens the safety of the food supply are causing ‘hysteria.’”

I said, “they don’t even know what they are talking about. They just try to scare people.”

All of us former Secretaries of Agriculture stood shoulder to shoulder, supporting GM crops, new technology, and modern agriculture. We will never be able to increase production to feed the world if we go back to farming like my grandfather did.

I was proud to be a player on that team of former Secretaries of Agriculture.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to .

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.