Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has taken a little heat over a speech he gave earlier this month at the 2012 Farm Journal Forum.
Vilsack wants farmers and ranchers to stop being reactive and adopt a "proactive" and "progressive" message about agriculture.
He criticized farmers and ranchers for being overly concerned about regulation, citing the uproar over a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to halve the level of dust allowed at farms and other businesses and to tighten child labor restrictions on farms. Those proposals were later scuttled.
"The dust rule was never going to happen, and that was still the focus of conversations," he told the Capital Press after a town hall meeting in California last week. "Let's not worry so much about regulation but (ask), 'What is the solution to the problem?'"
Thanks for asking. While we think farmers and ranchers have been fairly clear about their problems and their potential solutions, we're happy to oblige the secretary by suggesting some "proactive" measures the government could take to make agriculture more viable.
* Keep estate tax rates low and exemptions high to help keep family farms viable. The federal top estate tax rate, now 35 percent on estates valued at $5 million or more, is set to revert to 55 percent on estates valued at $1 million or more on Jan. 1. Farmers are notoriously land rich and cash poor, forcing heirs to either sell assets or go into debt to pay the tax bill.
* Simplify the tax code to reduce the costs and complexity associated with compliance.
* Rewrite the Endangered Species Act to recognize practical limits to the efforts that can be made in the name of preservation. Few people are against protecting endangered species, but judgments in lawsuits filed in relation to the act often ignore the costs and consequences associated with its enforcement.
* Pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a viable guestworker program. Farmers need a reliable and legal source of labor.
* Vilsack doesn't want us to talk about regulation, but it would help that when regulations must be written that they be as reasonable and realistic as possible. Regulators should be required to respect the due process rights of individuals and businesses subjected to government rules, and not be allowed to levy punitive fines and fees in advance of an adjudicated finding of guilt.
By no means is this an all-inclusive list of problems and solutions, but it's a start.
Agriculture has been a relatively bright spot throughout the economic downturn. Farmers and ranchers aren't idle whiners and complainers. They are fully employed, tax-paying producers who are more than happy to provide solutions.