Vilsack addresses wheat, Farm Bill in hearing on the Current State of the Farm Economy | TheFencePost.com

Vilsack addresses wheat, Farm Bill in hearing on the Current State of the Farm Economy

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday about the farm economy, and worries in the agriculture industry. One of the largest problems farmers see today are the trending-lows for bumper crops. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., attributed the current lows as part of the "roller coaster" the industry is in, dating back to 2009 when crops were earning record highs. But the current drop in prices farmers are seeing didn't go back to previous prices.

"Farmers and ranchers are worried the downturn in the agriculture economy is taking a toll on their pocketbook and the health of many family operations," Roberts said.

The downturn isn't due to a lack of growth, either. Roberts said many farmers in his state grew high yields. The problem lies in the fact many other farmers, worldwide, are growing high yields, too.

Wheat is one of the hardest hit crops, with prices lower than they've been in a decade. But the dairy industry has also suffered because there is just too much of it in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture did agree to buy $20 million worth of cheese surplus to help the dairy industry as well as food banks. And even the $20 million wasn't all Vilsack wanted purchase.

"We would have liked to do more," he said.

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Vilsack recognized the strain on the agriculture industry as a whole, but stayed positive and said he expects a turn around soon because of exports.

Vilsack said exports have increased and will continue to do so in the next few years. Something that factors into that are the reopened doors for the U.S. to export beef to Saudi Arabia for the first time in four years.

"We've had, frankly, the eight best years of agricultural exports in the history of the country, and hopefully that's going to continue," Vilsack said.

OTHER TALKING POINTS

» Health concerns

Vilsack said opioid use among people in rural areas is a concern since there are very few treatment centers in close proximity to them. He said the proximity and the fear of being associated with being addicted to pain killers makes it "tricky" to help them, but Vilsack said regulations from the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration should help.

» Atrazine

The Environmental Protection Agency released a report regarding herbicide, Atrazine, has many farmers worried they won't be able to use it to prevent weeds. It's most commonly used in corn and sugarcane crops. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa said the pressure from the EPA to, essentially, stop the use of Atrazine will hurt farmers.

"This could cost the average corn grower $30-$60 per acre at a time where producers have $3 corn or lower," Ernest said. ❖