Framing the farm bill

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks to Bradley community about new five-year farm bill.

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By Abby Rhodes
November 4, 2011

Ninety-eight percent of Americans are not involved in the nation’s food production. Bradley student Mary Moritz ’13 is one of the 98 percent. Moritz's passion isn’t so much the country’s amber waves of grain, but rather the opportunity for innovation in its spacious skies. Just mention the word “aerospace,” and her eyes light up like a couple of stars.

But her mechanical engineering acumen is diverse and includes solutions for a wide spectrum of industries, including agriculture, which makes her part of two groups targeted by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack – 98 percent-ers and young engineers with bright ideas about energy conservation.

Vilsack was the featured guest at a Nov. 3 national public policy symposium titled “The Future of Midwest Agriculture & Environmental Sustainability.” The symposium was sponsored by Bradley’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service and endowed by The Dirksen Congressional Center, which together seek to promote ethical, civil and bipartisan leadership among public servants.

The nation’s top advocate for farmers knows that the future of farming relies on his ability to bridge the political divide and convince the 98 percent that what’s good for growers, is good for everyone.

Convincing Moritz wasn’t too tough. “I think it’s important to remember that we all ate breakfast this morning and that means we benefited from the work of the American farmer,” said Moritz, who gets excited talking about airplanes, but nostalgic reminiscing about summers spent on her grandparents’ farm in rural Iowa.

Others will be a tougher sell. Rallying support among a skeptical majority means touting the farm bill as much more than just a farm bill.

“I think we begin by renaming it the farm, environment, food and jobs bill,” Vilsack said. “Because when the 98 percent ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ we say jobs, clean water, safety and security. Every American has a stake in this bill.”

Moritz and other mechanical engineering students shared with Vilsack their research projects on energy in agriculture during his visit. “These students give me great hope that they’ll be working for the United States Department of Agriculture in the not-too-distant future, helping us create more renewable energy,” Vilsack said during his keynote address.

Vilsack noted that most Americans don’t realize they live in the world’s only food-secure nation, where farmers can grow everything the population needs for survival. “Many people rail about China holding so much of our debt, but they also import most of their soybeans from the United States. At the end of the day, you can’t eat a promissory note. You can eat a soybean.”

The latest farm bill legislation comes at a time of unprecedented polarization among political leaders, so Vilsack may find that convincing 98 percent of Americans to support his mission is easier than getting 535 elected officials to agree on his solution.