Complete Transcript: RURAL TOWN HALL with Secretary of Agricultu

Complete Transcript: RURAL TOWN HALL with Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack

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The following is a complete transcript of Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack's appearance on RFD-TV's RURAL TOWN HALL hosted by Mark Oppold. 

Announcer:  RFD TV News and Mediacom proudly present Rural Town Hall. A series of conversations on issues vital to rural Americans.  Our guest, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.

Mark Oppold:  And from the beautiful Stine Family Barn in West Des Moines, Iowa, welcome to this Rural Town Hall meeting produced by RFD TV News and Mediacom.  I'm Mark Oppold and for the next hour, we'll be discussing issues of interest and concern to rural Americans, whether farmers, ranchers or just folks who choose to live in small towns that make up this great nation.  Questions come from a variety of interested parties, including most of the major organizations representing different sectors of agriculture.  In fact most of the questions during the hour will be asked directly from members of our audience who have come to West Des Moines, Iowa today.  We'll start with key agricultural issues, extend to other topics such as rural health care, rural schools, educations, government regulations, much, much more.  Today our guest is not a presidential candidate, rather someone who addresses these issues on your behalf on a daily basis.  RFD TV and Mediacom now welcome the 30th United States Secretary of Agriculture, former Governor of Iowa, we welcome Tom Vilsack.

Tom Vilsack:  Hey Mark.

Mark Oppold:  Welcome Secretary, welcome.  Sit here.  Good to have you here.  Have a seat.  Good to have you here.  Welcome.  I'm sure it's good to be back in your home state.

Tom Vilsack:  It is great to be back in Iowa and boy what a beautiful venue.

Mark Oppold:  Doesn't your barn look like this?

Tom Vilsack:  No, but I wish it would.

Mark Oppold:  We want to thank you on behalf of RFD TV and Mediacom for accepting our invitation to spend the hour with us and talking about something you talk about every day, agriculture, issues to rural America, farmers and ranchers.  I want to start, though, by saying that under your leadership, we were talking about this at our staff here leading up to today, that under Tom Vilsack, the ag economy in our country has enjoyed some tremendous profitable years for all commodities, more as other parts of the economy continue to suffer and lag.  And under your leadership, you are to be commended for the leadership of all of our exports and in the conservation, many other programs that make it profitable to be in rural America.

Tom Vilsack:  Listen, Mark, I feel very fortunate and humble to be the Secretary of Agriculture in this administration and for this country.  I've had a chance to travel around the country to visit with producers and the credit for our strong agricultural economy, the credit for the fact that we're a food secure nation, the credit for the jobs that are created in part as a result of exports, belongs to those producers.  And frankly it's an under-appreciated group of folks in this country.  But I grow every single day in greater appreciation and thankfulness for the American farmer.

Mark Oppold:  Well and again, before we get to our first question, you are the longest now serving cabinet member in this administration.

Tom Vilsack:  I'm not sure what that says.  Maybe because I can't find another job.  I don't know but it's been an extraordinary privilege.  The last Iowan to have a constitutional position like this was Henry Wallace.  And I have a large picture in my office of Henry Wallace and George Washington Carver to remind me of how special this opportunity is.

Mark Oppold:  Political future after eight years of doing this as Secretary of Agriculture?

Tom Vilsack:  You know I'm just going to take it one day at a time.  I'd say part of my future though will definitely include my grandkids.  It's an opportunity for me, I've got four beautiful grandchildren, I want to make sure I spend enough time.

Mark Oppold:  Absolutely.  Very, very good.  Well we think it's fitting, I know you agree, we've started all of our Rural Town Hall meetings, our first question coming from the next generation, who is going to feed this world, the National FFA Organization.

Tom Vilsack:  Great organization.  Great young people.

Mark Oppold:  Go ahead.

Michael Tupper:  Morning Secretary Vilsack.

Tom Vilsack:  Good morning.

Michael Tupper (FFA):  Glad to have you back in the state of Iowa.  My name is Michael Tupper, President of the Iowa FFA Association this year and my first question is about rural education.  The National FFA Organization now has 629,000 student members gaining real world, hands-on skills along leadership.  What value do you place on these agriculture education programs, especially for school districts that might be stressed at this point in time, where programs might be getting cut?

Tom Vilsack:  You know, Michael, I had an opportunity early in the administration to travel over to the Department of Education and visit with Secretary Duncan, trying to impress upon Secretary Duncan and the folks at the Department of Education the important role that FFA and agricultural education play not just for rural kids, but for all of America.  There needs to be a better effort, I think, to reconnect people with the food and where the food comes from and how it's produced, so there's a greater appreciation for the American farmer and rancher.  As a result of that meeting, the Secretary set up his own rural education initiative in the Department of Education to make sure that there was an opportunity to expand rural education to make sure that we evoke ag, evoke classes in high schools and in grade schools across the country.  They've also teamed up with the Farm Bureau with a wonderful program that is focused on the young children and grade schools, making sure that they understand and appreciate the importance of agriculture.  So there is a sensitivity to this and the challenge, I think, is for us to create the economy in rural areas that will allow us to continue to support rural schools and to ensure that youngsters have that option and multiple options in rural schools.

Michael Tupper (FFA):  Thank you.

Mark Oppold:  Thank you for being here again, FFA.  Animal Ag Alliance has a question for you today.  Let me welcome them as well.

Kay Johnson Smith (AAA):  Good morning Secretary Vilsack.  I'm Kay Johnson Smith.  I'm the President of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which we're based in Arlington, Virginia and our role is to help close the communications gap between farm and fork.  So one issue of great concern for our members is the use of antibiotics in livestock production and despite the benefits to both ensuring healthy animals and a safe food supply, opponents express concern about the possible unintended consequences to human health.  The FDA and Animal Ag are both taking action already to address these concerns, but some say it's not enough and especially given the recent legislation passed in California.  So what are your thoughts?

Tom Vilsack:  Well the Department of Agriculture is an integral part of a task force that the President established by executive order to take a look at this issue of antimicrobial resistance and figure out the best strategies.  And within that strategy, there is the focus on judicious and appropriate use of antibiotics for livestock, understanding that there is a time and a place and an opportunity to use antibiotics appropriately and reasonably and to use it in the context of a veterinarian taking a look at all the circumstances and situations.  And we see a continued acceptance of that notion as we travel around the country.  We've been working with the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, to educate producers about the appropriate use of antibiotics.  That's the first thing.  Secondly, there's a lot we don't know about antimicrobial resistance and so one of the things that we're doing at USDA is to encourage additional research.  A lot of these pathogens are naturally occurring in the soil and there are also ways in which we potentially could reduce them on the farm.  So there's a need for us to do more research and better education.  And then finally looking at alternatives, probiotics and things of that nature.  Are there ways in which we could potentially be more effective in prevention, rather than necessarily treatment.  So there's an awful lot going on in this space and I really appreciate the fact that you're out there educating people because in this day and age with so much information, so much specialized information, sometimes people think they know what's going on, but in fact they may not.  And it is, I think, important for folks to know farmers take this very seriously, they're very concerned about it and they are taking steps now to reduce the use because the market is demanding it and it's the appropriate thing.  But making sure that we do it in a reasonable and thoughtful way so that we continue to have a strong livestock industry.

Mark Oppold:  Thank you very much.  Another example, your administration and your staff has done a great job of sorting out that information, you looked at USDA.  So what is true and what can we tell consumers and so we thank you for that as well.

Tom Vilsack:  Well the USDA website is a very inclusive website.  Lots of information would occur if people would look at

Mark Oppold:  Iowa Farmer's Union are today.  We welcome them as well.

Jana Linderman (IFU):  Thank you.  It's wonderful to have you with us in Iowa, Secretary Vilsack.  I'm Jana Linderman.  I'm the President of Iowa Farmer's Union.  We're actually celebrating our 100th anniversary this year, we're very proud of that milestone.  My question for you is about beginning farmers.  As a beginning farmer myself, one of the biggest challenges I see for new farmers is the ability to own farmland.  A lot of young people are getting into farming.  They already have a lot of debt, particularly student debt.  We have historically high farmland prices and new farmers are having to compete, not just with established farmers, but increasingly people who aren't actively farming, who just see farm land as a good investment.  So my question is we know that a lot of farm land is going to be changing hands over the next decade or so, how can we encourage as much of that farm land as possible to stay in the hands of active farmers who are, after all, the primary caretakers of the land and how can we create better opportunities for beginning farmers so that they can purchase farm land and build equity in their farming operations?

Tom Vilsack:  That's a critically important question and it's one that's pretty complex, the whole issue of land tenure.  You're absolutely correct when you look at the age of farm ownership in this country in terms of the number of people who own farm.  You can see that there is going to be a rather significant transfer of land ownership here.  We convened a special task force under our beginning farmer and rancher development program and committee to take a look at this issue of land tenure.  And they came back with a set of recommendations and one of those recommendations was to put together a commission to really look at this in-depth and we are now looking at other long-term issues affecting and impacting agriculture so that we can have a longer-term view.  Part of the challenge of the job that I have is that often times you're dealing with the crisis of the day and there isn't that long-term view.  So we're going to try to put together, at the beginning of next year, an effort to try to look at some of these long-term issues.  So that's a way of saying that we recognize this is an issue.  Secondly, we are developing ways in which folks can start small and grow over time.  The local and regional food movement, which I think is an extraordinarily important movement, creates an opportunity for somebody to start small, maybe it's a five-acre organic operation.  We have a micro loan program.  We have conservation benefits that are focused and provide a little additional help for beginning farmers.  We have crop insurance efforts that are also designed to help make it a little bit less expensive for farmers who are just beginning.  So we have programs in place to make it a little bit easier for beginning farmers and ranchers to get started at creating that local and regional market so that they don't necessarily have to compete on a commodity basis.  The third thing I would say is that you've addressed the issue of college expense and while this may not be specifically in response to your question, the reality is I think we have to get serious in this country about the cost of college education and figuring out ways in which we can reduce the burden that young people have, whether it's tuition free community college, whether it's in-state four-year college tuition free, some kind of mechanism to make it much easier for young people to pursue their dreams without being laden with debt.  The last thing is the USDA, as is the case with a lot of federal agencies, has access to land and so most recently when we shut down one of our old ARS labs in Florida, the law requires us to basically give a university the opportunity to take that land.  We did so with Florida A&M but we did it with one condition; they make the land available for beginning farmers and ranchers.  And I think that we have an opportunity with the Defense Department and defense installations to look at ways in which we could make that land more available.  We don't always have to necessarily get the highest and top dollar for the federal lands.  There's an opportunity, I think, for us to make that more accessible, more available.  So there's an awful lot going on in that space but I don't think we know all the answers.  There may very well be the opportunity at some point in time to consider debt forgiveness of loan.  Debt forgiveness based on what you do and maybe farming can be part of the debt forgiveness program as well.

Mark Oppold:  Thank you very much and we'll go to break here, but a lot of the programs you're talking about for young farmers, you're doing it on reduced money.  Every year, your budgets been challenged almost every year you've been in office.

Tom Vilsack:  Well the challenge, I think it's important for people to know, that indeed the property budget, which is really what pays for a good many of these programs is less today than it was when I first became secretary and certainly less than our first full budget when the President came into office.  That presents significant challenges and we've been able to do more with less because our employees have found a billion and a half dollars of savings that have not impacted and affected the programs, but have required them to really think creatively and strategically and I'm very proud of that.  But there gets a point where you've done a lot of that and really at some point in time, I think we have to get serious about making sure that we continue to invest in rural America.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  Alright.  Don't go anywhere.  We're just getting a good start here dealing with some very important issues already our first few minutes.  We'll tackle others, equally important, including trade, broadband and more when we return.  More with Rural Town Hall and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, coming up.

Announcer:  RFD TV's Rural Town Hall produced in association with Mediacom, the power to simplify.

Mark Oppold:  And welcome back to Rural Town Hall on RFD TV.  I'm Mark Oppold and we are talking to our nation's Secretary of Agriculture, joining us for this hour, Tom Vilsack.  We appreciate the opportunity to address some issues that are important to you, tuning in, farmers and ranchers around the country and those of you who live in our small rural communities who just enjoy the rural lifestyle.  We've already addressed some very important issues, moving on now to our next topic and one of our partners here, Mediacom joining us again.

Jeff Angelo (Mediacom):  Mr. Secretary, it's good to see you again.  We served on the Iowa Senate Agriculture Committee together, Jeff Angelo from Mediacom and as you well know, the development of broadband and cellular technology in rural areas is playing a real important part in economic development in rural areas.  What role would you see the USDA having in the continued development of those broadband and cellular technologies?

Tom Vilsack:  Well Senator, it's good to see you and it's a very important question for the future of economic opportunity in rural America.  I'm proud of the fact that as a result of the recovery act, we had about 250 broadband projects that we have now completed, expanding access to over a million and a half subscribers, potentially as many as 6,000,000 American families could have access to additional broadband.  We're working with the industry to use the programs that we have within the farm bill, the Connect USA program, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Programs at USDA through a rural utility service, providing loans and grants to expand broadband access.  Frankly we've done a lot, but, as you know, we have still more to do here and I think it gets to the question of making sure that we understand the appropriateness of investing in infrastructure.  I think unfortunately, we've taken a short-time view on some of the investments.  I realize that there are folks who are concerned about government spending, but when you invest in broadband, when you invest in highways and rail systems and ports and lock and dam systems, you're not just spending money, you're actually investing those resources to create more economic activity and I think you can make the case the return on investment is good for the country.  So my hope is that, as part of a larger conversation, that we see expanded access.  One last point I'll make on this.  Our resources are limited and so we have looked for creative ways, Senator, to encourage the private sector to get engaged and so we have the rural opportunity investment effort.  We worked with the farm credit system, Mark, and we've basically identified through CoBank and Capital Peak Management $10,000,000,000 that they're willing to commit to loans for infrastructure, it could include broadband projects.  We've also worked a series of what are called rural business investment companies that focus on equity investments in small businesses, which could include potentially a broadband effort as well.  We have three of those that we recently licensed and we hope to see about $300,000,000 of additional equity capital being made available and invested in rural areas.  So a lot going on in that space.

Jeff Angelo (Mediacom):  All great work.  Thank you sir.

Tom Vilsack:  Thanks.

Mark Oppold:  Our partners at Mediacom.  We invited our listeners and viewers to send in questions, knowing you would be here today.  This is one from Dairy Farmers in Waterville, New York, Secretary.  America's milk producers need help, but margin insurance is not the answer.  What is USDA doing to address this and other issues in the dairy industry?

Tom Vilsack:  Well, a couple of things.  First of all, the margin insurance program that's referred to in the question is just getting started.  It's the first full year of that program, roughly fifty percent of dairy producers participated and I acknowledge and recognize that with any new program, it's a learning experience and one of the things that we're beginning to learn is the differential between feed costs in the Northeast versus California versus the Midwest.  And I think as we look at ways in which we can work this program, we need to think about looking at the regional impacts of feed costs and factoring that into the insurance program.  So we've instructed our farm service agency to work with our National Agricultural Statistics Service, NASS, to figure out if there are ways in which we could potentially improve the margin protection program to take into consideration that differential.  We think it would be more effective.  Secondly, we obviously want to increase consumption and one way to do that is through exports and additional trade opportunities and I think the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership offers an opportunity in the next 10 years for certain of expanded opportunities for dairy products to be exported throughout Asia and throughout the TPP countries.  And finally, we continue to promote dairy products in terms of the federal food programs, particularly our school lunch and school breakfast program.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  Yeah another case where producers do what they do best, they produce.  They're producing a lot of milk here, as you know...

Tom Vilsack:  I tell the story of when I was born in 1950 and I don't want the young people to do the math here.  I'm almost 65.  When I was born in 1950, the average dairy cow in this country produced 5500 pounds of milk and today that same average cow produces 22,000.  I always comment that there's one poor cow in Wisconsin that produced 72,000 pounds.  So it's an amazing, amazing innovation.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  Alright.  Our friends of the Iowa Cattleman's Association, we welcome them as well.

Matt Deppe (ICA):  Yes Matt Deppe with the Iowa Cattleman's Association, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you for coming to Iowa for this venue and the world food prize, as well.  We really appreciate everything you've done for our state, but more importantly, agriculture.  Specifically, from the Iowa Cattleman's Association, given the recent avian influenza outbreak over the upper Midwest and throughout the country, as well as the allowance for the import of fresh and frozen beef from countries outside the U.S., there's a lot of concern in our membership and across our industry related to a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  So could you share with us what USDA is going to prevent, first of all, the potential outbreak, given some importation nuances that are happening right now, but also if, unfortunately, something were to break out from a FMD standpoint, what are those first line defenses that USDA looks like and how do they get engaged?

Tom Vilsack:  Matt, that's a really important question and let me just expound on it just a bit.  I understand and appreciate the concerns that folks have, especially as we look at Argentina and other nations, who have had experience with foot and mouth disease and markets reopening.  The reality is that we go around the world extolling the benefits of American beef and I think we've got a great product to sell, but obviously some of our trading partners remind us that in 2003, we had a BSE incident and unfortunately they have restricted trade in beef because of that incident.  And we say look, you've got to let the science take you to where it needs to take you and if the science says that we have basically taken care of BSE, we have a system, a reliable system for identifying BSE issues, then you need to reopen your market to our quality beef.  And folks are beginning to do that.  Well we can't very well say that on BSE and not recognize that other countries have taken steps on foot and mouth disease.  So first and foremost, we have to verify that the steps that they say they've taken, they have in fact taken and we have to verify that in fact, they haven't had an incident in a particular area or region of the country and we have to make sure that as we inspect product coming into the U.S. and up to this point, no product has come in from some of these countries, we have to make sure that we've properly inspected it.  So that's the first line of defense, ensuring that what they say is true and then making sure that our inspection process works.  If, as you say, we have an unfortunate circumstance, then clearly the first line of defense is identifying as quickly as possible and stamping it out as quickly as possible and eradicating it.  And we have a FMD task force that would be triggered immediately to basically be engaged in the identification, quarantine and eradication of whatever livestock might be impacted by this.  And then we have also stockpiled vaccine.  So I think we have a strong plan and I think it's a science-based plan and it puts us in a very consistent position in terms of our trading partners, if they try to restrict our beef supplies from some other incident that may have occurred that we've taken care of or dealt with.  So very good question, I really appreciate you asking.

Mark Oppold:  I want a quick follow up.  We've been getting a lot of calls, emails from our viewers saying hey with cattle prices where they are and as hard as it is out there now, we're still importing.  How do you balance these beef imports and exports, Secretary?  What do you say to those people out there, where they see beef imports coming in, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico?

Tom Vilsack:  Well we've also opened up markets in Japan and Korea, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will open up additional market opportunities.  We're working very hard and very closely with the Chinese market to get that reopened in a direct way.  The Vietnamese market has become a good market for us and will become an even better market.  With the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we're going to see significant tariff reduction and elimination on many of our products.  So while we are obviously allowing imports, we can't speak with two ways.  You can't say on the one hand we want the rest of the world to buy our beef, but we're not going to let the rest of the world have access to our market.  It's a two-way street; trade has to be a two-way street.  The challenge has been that America has had a relatively open system.  Our tariffs are reasonable; our tariffs are low in terms of agricultural products.  What we're now doing with these multi-lateral trade agreements is we're basically saying to the rest of the world we've done our part.  Now it's time for you to lower tariffs, eliminate tariffs, have sanitary and phytosanitary barriers that are science based and have a high standards agreement so that we are competing on a level playing field.  Here's what I know for sure; if the playing field is level or at least close to level, we win every time.  Why?  Because our product is safe, it is affordable and it is high quality.

Mark Oppold:  Amen.  Thank you.  All right.  Iowa Farm Bureau, been great partners as well.  Welcome.

Craig Hill (IFB):  Welcome back to Iowa, Mr. Secretary.  Craig Hill, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau and USDA conservation program have traditionally focused their efforts on soil erosion or retention of soil on farms, but currently we're looking more at water quality efforts and retaining those nutrients on our farms, nitrates, phosphorous and so on.  Do you find these programs effective?  Will they be more targeted in the future and with litigation, there's some solutions being provided by judges or others, would you prefer that or oppose the collaborative partnership that we've had within our CS over the years as farmers?

Tom Vilsack:  Craig, obviously a really important question in Iowa but really frankly important question throughout the entire United States.  Excuse me.  Let me first answer the last part of your question first.  There needs to be a collaborative effort here.  You basically have three options.  In terms of what's happening in Iowa, with litigation and in terms of what's happening potentially throughout the country, you can have a judge decide it.  This is very complex and the chances of a judge not getting it right are high, that's to me not a good solution.  You can legislate and regulate, which some states have done, but I think my chosen way of approaching it, certainly for Iowa, which has worked, is an incentive-based system.  And I think it does require collaboration and I think it does require coordination.  What I believe we can do with our inner CS programs, is first and foremost, document that they work.  I can tell you from research and analysis that we've done, that indeed our conservation programs do work to reduce soil erosion significantly.  They have worked to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous getting into our rivers and streams.  Now that's not to say that there isn't nitrogen and phosphorous getting into our rivers and streams, some of that's naturally produced, some of it's a result of practices.  We obviously need to address that.  The way to address it is by encouraging farmers to embrace a suite of conservation practices, which we know from this analysis will reduce the soil erosion and reduce what goes into our rivers and streams.  We also need to bank on precision agriculture, the ability to do research, the ability to provide information to farmers, to understand as they do that every acre of their land isn't necessarily the same as the adjoining acre and some acres may require more input, some acres may require less.  And the more information we can provide to farmers about that precise nature of nutrient management of inputs, the better stewards that they will be because at the end of the day, it helps their bottom line and at the end of the day, it increases productivity and at the end of the day it's good for conservation, so providing them that information.  And then last but certainly not least, coordinating our efforts with state and local partners and also with the nonprofit organizations that are very interested in conservation.  That's one of the reasons why we are very interested in the Regional Conservation Partnership program.  We've seen great interest in this throughout the United States with projects, 115 projects were funded in our first round.  Over $300,000,000 is going to be matched by additional $300,000,000 from outside sources, so we're going to do more conservation even though federal budgets are tight.  And then if we can also begin to measure and quantify conservation benefits, there are regulated industries that will want that benefit and rather than having to pay for gray infrastructure, a building that treats water or whatever, we can promote green infrastructure by having ecosystem markets, market opportunities where I will pay Craig because I'm a regulated industry, I'll pay you for certain conservation practices on your farm because it gets an economic and environmental benefit that I need to satisfy some regulatory responsibility.  I think a combination of those things and also creating some kind of assistance and efforts to help the water treatment facilities of this country comply with whatever regulations they have to comply with, a combination of that type of thing would be I think, best suited for addressing the challenges of water quality.

Craig Hill (IFB):  Thank you.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  And they're always interested in that and producers are always looking for more information and how to get it and what to do with it. 

Tom Vilsack:  Well with drones, with GPS, with combines and tractors accumulating information, of course we want to make sure the information is protected.  We want to make sure the privacy of that information is protected, but at the end of the day, if we can use that data and analyze that data and basically say to this producer on this 40 acres you should do X, on this 40 acres over here, you should do Y.  You're going to see producers do that and if we combine that with a suite of conservation practices, and we combine that with an ecosystem market that brings additional private sector money into conservation and address the issues that water treatment facilities have legitimately, I think we can get to a place where we don't have to have a federal judge making the decision.  And I think we can get to a place where city and rural folks are working together.  This is a long answer to the question, but I think it's really, really important.  I was in Washington State yesterday and I met with a group of people in the timber industry and the environmental community.  If you want to talk to folks who have been at each other for years and years and years about various things involving the forests, you would be talking to the people I talked to yesterday.  But these folks finally figured out that fighting with each other was not particularly effective and they decided they were going to come together, they were going to get in a room and they were going to sit down and they were going to listen to each other and they were going to learn to trust each other.  And from that, they have developed pilot projects that they will move for appropriate treatment in our forests so the timber industry gets more wood to create buildings with.  The environmental community gets more sustainable and healthier forests.  And they've done it without the necessity of a third party coming in and saying you shall do this.  They came together and I think this is an important message for the entire country.  We are far too siloed, far too polarized in this country.  We have got to figure out a way in which we put reasonable people in a room and we encourage them to collaborate and reach consensus.  This notion of conflict, this notion of my way or the highway, it's not particularly healthy for the country and it certainly doesn't solve a problem.

Mark Oppold:  Right.  Well said.  Thank you for much.  Thank you for the question.  Move onto an important industry here, as you know, Iowa Pork Producers joining us today as well.

Tom Vilsack:  That's an important industry?  I didn't realize.

Iowa Pork Producers:  Good morning Secretary and welcome home.  As pork producers, trade has had a huge impact on our business and what we do here in the state of Iowa and growing our operations and things.  Our question is focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and it's been said that the Obama administration will face some sizeable challenges in getting the recently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress.  How will the administration overcome these hurdles?

Tom Vilsack:  Well we can't do it alone.  We're going to need the help and assistance of the pork producers and those in agriculture.  And I say that because I am convinced from my awareness and knowledge of the agreement as it relates to agriculture, American agriculture is a net winner in the TPP.  We also need to educate the American public about precisely what this is.  So let me do that for agriculture.  We're talking about countries that make up 40% of the entire world economy, 46% of all American exports go to 11 countries we negotiated with the TPP.  It is a place, most of these countries are located in Asia, where we're seeing the fastest growing and rising number of middle class consumers.  Today Asia's home to 535 middle class consumers.  In just 10 to 15 years, that number goes to 3,500,000,000.  Now those middle class consumers in those countries, they want American product.  They want it because it's safe, affordable and quality.  So there's an enormous market opportunity for us if the playing field is level.  This TPP agreement basically calls for the elimination or significant reduction of tariffs across the board, in virtually every agricultural product from pork to beef to poultry, fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, wine, beverages.  Across the board, agriculture is seeing reduced tariffs.  In addition, and we refer to these tariffs as taxes, Mark, I mean they're really a tax on American products.  Over 18,000 tariffs in terms of the entire agreement are being reduced on a variety of other goods and services coming from America to the rest of the world.  Secondly, as you well know, from time to time countries will block our product not based on some real concern about safety, but something that is really designed to protect their own domestic market.  So we've said look, you can't do that.  If you're going to have free trade, if you're going to have open trade, you can't have rules that aren't science based.  So this agreement provides for a much stronger commitment to science-based sanitary and phytosanitary rules and provides the mechanisms for questioning folks if indeed they put together a rule that's not science based.  So that's important.  Important considerations for organic and biotechnology as well and for the dairy industry, a particularly important thing in terms of geographic indicators.  So this is a really solid agreement for agriculture, but it's going to be important for us to educate people about that.  It's going to be important for us to educate that every $1,000,000,000 of additional agricultural trade helps to support 6500 good paying jobs.  Export related jobs pay 18% more on wages on average than non-export related jobs and there's just a tremendous opportunity here.  Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers don't live in the United States, but what business would basically say, you know what?  We're just going to cater to 5%.  We're not going to worry about that other 95%.  Well that's just not...that doesn't make sense, doesn't make economic sense.  So it's important for us to educate folks.  And you're going to hear a lot of concerns, I'm sure, from people that, for whatever reason, are not supportive of this, but at the end of the day, American agriculture always wins with free trade.  Always because we have the best product and the best producers.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  Our friends from Agri-Pulse have been here for every one of our Rural Town Halls and Agri-Pulse Communications joining us today.  Again, welcome.

Frank Holdmeyer (Agri-Pulse):  Good morning.  Welcome back to Iowa, Secretary.  Frank Holdmeyer I'm representing Agri-Pulse today and my question is kind of a follow up on trade, which you've just been talking about.  As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a strong proponent of trade expansion, but as a candidate for President, she's voiced opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement you were just talking about.  So from your vantage point as Secretary of Agriculture, how should farmers feel about that?

Tom Vilsack:  Well I would hope that farmers, as they should, take a look at a broad array of issues.  I think it's always a challenge if you're a one-issue voter.  I know that, for example, Secretary Clinton is quite supportive of the renewable fuel standard.  Other candidates are not as supportive.  That should be taken into consideration.  I know that she's put forward a fairly aggressive rural development initiative that focuses on expanded access to bio-based product production, local and regional food systems.  So I would hope that as they make decisions about what candidate that they support, that they look at all of the issues, including access to healthcare, education support and so forth.  Look, I don't agree with my wife on everything and I certainly don't agree with Presidential candidates on everything.  I know what I know about the TPP, which is that it's good for American agriculture and I respect Secretary Clinton has got some concerns about currency manipulation.  That's an issue that clearly needs to be addressed, the question is whether it's appropriate to address it in a trade agreement or whether it's appropriate to address it in some other form.  So I think this is a healthy debate and healthy conversation, but I would hope that people would look at the broad array of issues that people who are running for President talk about.  The last thing I would say is that I would expect and anticipate that every Presidential candidate would be focusing on the future, not necessarily on the present because at the end of the day, what they're asking to do is to be President in 2017 and beyond.  And so we ought to encourage our Presidential candidates to tell us how they think the future could be better.  And leave, to those of us who are currently in office, for the focus on the present.  And I think the present challenge for us is to educate people about the importance of TPP and I think if they are educated, I think eventually we get it successfully passed and if Secretary Clinton is fortunate enough to be the next President of the United States, then at that point in time, if there are improvements to this agreement that she believes are appropriate, she'll obviously have the opportunity.  There are other countries that are interested now in joining this.  I think the Indonesian, Philippines, I don't think they ever thought perhaps that the TPP could actually be negotiated, this is the largest agreement of its kind ever.  There's also an interesting conversation and discussion we're going to have with our European friends, with the Trans-Atlantic Partnership program.  So there's going to be plenty of opportunity to talk about trade and to improve on past trade agreements and on future trade agreements, but I would hope that we don't pigeon all ourselves into one particular issue because that doesn't appreciate the richness of the debate that we're having here.  Renewable fuel standard, pretty important in Iowa, right?  I mean trade, pretty important to Iowa.  Health care services, very important to Iowans.  Rural development, particularly important to Iowans.  Let's take a look at the totality and then folks will make their decisions appropriately.

Mark Oppold:  Alright.  Thank you very much, friends from Agri-Pulse.  Alright.  We've covered some very important topics again in this portion and just again, getting a good start.  Still to come we'll be asking the Secretary about rural infrastructure, food insecurity as well.  You're watching Rural Town Hall on RFD TV.  And welcome back to our Rural Town Hall on RFD TV.  I'm Mark Oppold.  Thank you so much for joining us.  We are joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for this hour about topics critical to agriculture, rural America, farmers and ranchers and those who just enjoy the rural lifestyle.  Mr. Secretary our founder and President here, Patrick Gottsch, has a question for you and we're glad to have Patrick here today as always.  Welcome Patrick.

Patrick Gottsch (RFD TV):  Welcome Mr. Secretary.  On behalf of all Farm Broadcasters and especially on our company's behalf, I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly thank you and your entire staff for all the support that you give rural media on a daily basis.  I don't know if folks know, but the USDA puts out radio stories every day, they put out television stories.  Every week you're always available to us and we thank you for all you do to help us try to reconnect, not only inform farmers and ranchers, but to reconnect city with country again.

Tom Vilsack:  Happy to do it.

Patrick Gottsch:  My question relates to that.  As you know, if there's one thing that unites all of agriculture and all segments of agriculture, is that we all have to do a better job of communicating our message with urban America.  You fight that battle every day, but I was wondering if you have any special thoughts on how we can get urban media and the urban public to better understand what more can we do to better make that connection between city and country?

Tom Vilsack:  You know, Patrick, as I thought about that question as you were asking it, it occurred to me that here we are in Iowa, which obviously is the epi-center of our Presidential campaign, with lots of Presidential candidates coming through and I think it's an opportunity as well for the national media that follows to press them on a rural message and in doing so, perhaps educate them and the rest of the country about the importance of rural America and farmers and ranchers to the rest of us.  When I speak to audiences that are not farm related, I usually ask the question, "What do you folks do for a living," and someone will say, "Well I'm a lawyer or I'm a teacher or I'm a doctor, I'm an engineer, I'm a carpenter."  I said, "Well how is it that you got to be a lawyer, doctor or carpenter," and they'll tell me they went to school and all the sacrifices that they made.  And I said, "No, no, no.  How is it that you had the option, the choice to do that?"  They look at me kind of quizzically and they go, "Well what do you mean?"  I said, "Well you realize that 100 years ago, you wouldn't have been able to have that freedom.  You would have had to be first and foremost, concerned about feeding your family and you might have actually had to produce the food to feed your family.  Today you don't have to worry about that because you've delegated the responsibility, an important responsibility, of feeding your family to somebody else."  And to a relatively small percentage of somebody else’s in the country, less than 1% of America's population are farms, but the rest of us are able to do what we do because we've delegated that responsibility.  And then when you begin to explain to them not only do you have the freedom to choose and to dream big dreams and to go off and do great things, but you also walk out of a grocery store with more money in your pocket, as a percentage of your pay check than anyplace in the world because your food costs are about 10% of your pay check.  Other developed countries, its 20, 25%.  I ask them, "What do you do with that extra 10 to 15 cents?"  Do you live in a nicer house, do you have a nicer car, do you put money aside for college for kids, have you been able to retire earlier?  Well, have you ever thought about thanking a farmer and a producer and a rancher for that?  And then talk about the fact that all the food, all the energy, a lot of the water comes from rural communities that helps urban centers be the vibrant places that they are and then I usually finish with, by the way, rural America is only 15% of America's population, but it represents 40% of those brave young men and women who have gone off the last decade and more to places like Afghanistan and Iraq and risked their life to protect you and your family.  So when you have that message, it's a powerful message and it makes people stop and think about this place called rural America, the people who live, work, and raise their families in this place called rural America and especially the American farmer.  If we can do that, if we can convey those messages, then I think people will begin to understand and then if we continue to support urban agriculture so that people get a sense of how hard this is, it's just not an easy proposition.  You don't just throw a few seeds on the ground and hope everything works out.  It takes a tremendous amount of financial risk and a lot of knowledge and a lot of hard work to produce this great abundance.  And point out to them last and certainly not least, that we are a food secure nation, which means that America does not really have to rely on any other country for the food that we need to feed our own people.  That is not true of virtually any other powerful nation in the world.  We are the most powerful and strongest nation in the world because we have the most successful agriculture.  And if you make that link, then I think we'll begin to have a different conversation than we've had recently between our urban friends and our rural folks.

Patrick Gottsch (RFD TV):  Thank you again.

Mark Oppold:  Thank you, Patrick, for being here and as you said earlier, a producer can do everything right and if it doesn't rain, he loses that total investment and that's just the way it is on the farm.

Tom Vilsack:  If you're the best baseball player in the world, you fail 70% of the time, but you get paid millions of dollars for the 30% of the time that you're successful.  That is not true in and people don't understand how little of the food dollar actually goes to the producer.  It's about 15 cents of every food dollar goes to the producer.  So not only do they work hard, not only they give us all this great, tremendous opportunity, but the margins that they work on are pretty, pretty slim.

Mark Oppold:  Very good.  Alright we're nearing the home stretch of this special edition of our Rural Town Hall with Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack.  Still more to come.  You're watching Rural Town Hall on RFD TV.  And welcome back to Rural Town Hall on RFD TV.  I'm Mark Oppold and we're visiting with Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack about topics crucial to agriculture and rural America, heading down the home stretch and our friends from AARP are here and welcome as well.

Claudia Host (AARP):  Good morning Secretary Vilsack.  My name is Claudia Host and I am a volunteer with AARP.  Sir, what steps do we need to take to address the problem of food and security in our senior rural population?  For example, the Older Americans Act has been unauthorized for three years now, has the administration been working with Congress to reauthorize it and to provide stability to our seniors and their need for nutrition assistance?

Tom Vilsack:  Well we have been working to reauthorize that important piece of legislation, as is the case with a number of other important pieces of legislation and hopefully we get that job done.  In the meantime, we have been working with AARP to get the message out to seniors about the availability of SNAP.  83% of eligible folks for SNAP are currently participating in the program, but unfortunately, only about 40% of seniors who are eligible are participating and part of it has to do with the fact that they're not aware of the program and in some cases, the application process can be confusing and difficult and the recertification process can be very burdensome.  So we're looking for ways to simplify the application and to maybe lengthen the amount of time for recertification because a senior's economic situation is not likely to change.  If they're living on a very small social security check, that's probably what they're going to be living on a year from now, two years from now, five years from now.  So their economic circumstance is, unlike a younger person, may not change dramatically.  So we have an aggressive effort to do better outreach, to simplify the process to make it a little bit easier and I think with that effort, we'll see improved participation.  We also trying to make sure that seniors have the same opportunities that the rest of us have to participate in farmer's markets, to have that community experience.  Certainly here in Des Moines, they have a wonderful farmers market that's a wonderful experience on Saturday morning.  So we want seniors to be able to participate in that, so we have made it easier to use SNAP at the farmers markets, 6200 farmers markets now across the nation can take a SNAP card and we also have the senior farmer's market promotion program that provides additional incentives for seniors to purchase fruits and vegetables.  Here's why this is important, not just for seniors.  It goes back to this message of all the things we do; it's not just siloed for seniors.  The reality is if we can make sure that seniors get proper nutrition, they're going to have fewer health care issues.  If they have fewer health care issues, overall health care costs are going to be less.  And if overall health care costs are going to be less, then insurance premiums for the rest of us are also going to be lower.  So it benefits all of us to make sure our seniors have access to good, proper nutrition.

Claudia Host (AARP):  Thank you Secretary.

Mark Oppold:  Our time goes fast every hour and we are at that time.  I want to give you a minute or so to just, some final thoughts for all those who are here, those that are watching as relates to rural America, issues there and this political election.

Tom Vilsack:  Well first of all, I want to thank everyone for the opportunity to be here today and for all the questions and many of the questions that we didn't get answered, hopefully we'll have an opportunity in the future to answer them.  I want folks to understand the importance of rural America and I want them to know that the Department of Agriculture is working every single day and particularly these young people who are here.  I want you to know that we care about your future.  We care about the opportunities that are going to be created in rural America, whether it's on the farm or ranch or in your small town.  We're working to expand production agriculture and opportunities through exports and a solid trade agreement.  We're expanding conservation efforts to make sure that we get the biggest bang for our buck and to leverage additional resources in conservation.  We're looking forward to increasing outdoor recreational opportunities that will bring more economic activity to rural communities because of conservation.  We are very committed to local and regional food systems, if you're someone who's just getting started in the farming business, not fortunate enough to inherit a farm or be part of a farming family, we want you to still have that opportunity and finally, we're working to create new manufacturing opportunities by taking what we grow and what we raise and converting it into chemicals, materials, fuel, fabric, materials of all kinds that can create good paying jobs.  Your future is bright and we want you to know it's bright in rural America.  We want you to believe, as we do, in rural America.

Mark Oppold:  Thank you.  You're always welcome on RFD TV.  Thank you very much for being here, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  That'll do it for this edition of our Rural Town Hall.  Don't forget you have the right to vote.  Register and use that right in the upcoming election.  Thank you for joining us.  Our thanks to the Stine family for giving us this beautiful space.  Thank you for joining us today.

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