Continuing a week full of impressive meetings and amazing experiences, the 2013-14 National FFA Officer Team met another member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet this week: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The meeting, at the USDA Whitten Building in Washington, D.C., followed time that the team spent with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Vilsack asked the national officers to “keep farming on the front burner” during the visit, according to the official USDA Blog:
“We are excited by the challenges you presented to us,” said FFA National Secretary Mitch Baker at the conclusion of a half-hour meeting of National FFA officers with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the USDA Whitten Building earlier this week.
In his meeting with the officers, the Secretary covered a wide range of issues, including the immediate need for a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. When it passes, he said, the National FFA should study provisions that will help young, beginning farmers become established. He said there will be, he hopes, an easier path to credit and also support for the USDA microloan program, which helps beginning farmers and others buy equipment, rent ground, and buy livestock or supplies at affordable interest rates. The Secretary noted that 70 percent of the world’s farmers are women, and USDA is working to provide greater opportunities to women, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans and others who want to farm.
He spoke of helping young college graduates work on farms, much as Americorps has students and graduates work in cities, and said it is important to link local and regional food production to the schools, not only to expand market opportunities for local producers, but also to strengthen the link between local food production and consumption.
Looking to the future, the Secretary noted that immigration policy will be important because until it is addressed, not enough workers will be available to producers. He also spoke of the impact of climate change, saying USDA will do more to work with producers regionally to assist them with the technology, strategy, irrigation techniques, cover crops and nutrient management needed to face growing weather variations.
Secretary Vilsack encouraged the officers to work to “keep farming on the front burner” in this country, noting that because it takes far fewer people to produce much more from the land, “every American has new opportunity.”
The officers met this week with other cabinet officials and with members of Congress. FFA National President Brian Walsh of Virginia, who was recognized by the Secretary on his 21st birthday, noted that over the next ten months, he and the other officers will visit eight state conventions, host the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, and speak to audiences of students, educators, and business and industry leaders across the country about the importance of agriculture in America.