Tonsager: 'The bottom line is rural Americans need to pull together'
By MITCH LIES
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Rural America needs to "talk loudly and thoughtfully" about its importance to the U.S. economy, USDA Rural Development Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager said in an interview here Jan. 28.
Tonsager's comments came in the wake of a theme introduced Jan. 14 by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that rural America is not receiving the respect it deserves in Congress.
"I think the first thing is people need to talk loudly and thoughtfully about how important rural America is and agriculture is, and that we take very little," Tonsager said.
"When we talk about a farm bill, it is still very modest," he said.
"The biggest part of the program is food and nutrition, which is very important, but it is a very large fraction of the overall farm bill. Most of the rest of it is pretty modest."
About $82 billion, or 80 percent, of current farm bill spending goes to food stamps and nutrition programs.
"The bottom line is rural Americans need to pull together," he said. "I've been involved in agricultural policy for many decades. This is the most difficult effort to get to a farm bill that I have ever seen."
Tonsager said that when Congress failed to pass a farm bill last year, it left many programs in a state of flux.
"The unknowns relative to funding of programs is a challenge," he said. "We just don't know what budget will come to be. It makes it very hard to manage properly."
Passing a farm bill soon is vital for USDA programs, farmers, and others in rural America, Tonsager said.
"We certainly believe that a farm bill is critical. Not only does it address agricultural issues, it addresses rural development issues, conservation issues, and all of those are pretty critical subjects for not just farmers, but all rural Americans," he said.
Tonsager was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Harvesting Clean Energy Conference.