The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Vilsack: Conservation compliance up to Congress

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday declined to wade into the battle over whether participation in federal crop insurance should be linked to conservation compliance.

Vilsack gave a speech on farm bill priorities in Iowa, and was asked in a meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board for his views on the position taken by conservationists that if the direct payments program is ended, the conservation compliance requirement linked to that program should be transferred to crop insurance, which is also federally subsidized.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
“‘"I won'’t be the one to say that compliance should be tied directly to crop insurance,"’ said Vilsack, who argued instead that Congress should be, in his words, ‘creative’ in coming up with ways to encourage conservation, the Register reported in its Green Fields Blog.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has said he considers linking crop insurance and conservation compliance to be impractical because crop insurance is sold by agents rather than federal employees.

In the speech to about 100 makers of farm equipment at the John Deere plant in Ankeny, Iowa, Vilsack mostly repeated positions he has taken in the past and noted he believes the farm safety net must help farmers in times of disasters. The disaster programs in the 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30 and do not have baseline funding for the writing of the next farm bill.

Vilsack also emphasized that he believes the next farm bill must keep the needs of the next generation of farmers in mind, a theme that he also addressed in a speech to an FFA (the new name for Future Farmers of America) in Indianapolis on Saturday.

Vilsack urged the young attendees at the 84th annual FFA Convention to recruit and support the nation's next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“America’s producers are the most productive and successful in the world – with a willingness to embrace change, new science and innovative technologies to fulfill the noble task of feeding a nation,” Vilsack said, according to a news release from USDA.

“To continue that success, we need organizations like FFA working creatively to build policies, structures and institutions that will ensure the next generation can continue to feed and fuel the world," he added.

“The future of agriculture is bright and will present the next generation with incredible opportunities to pursue," said Vilsack. “ We need [young people] to think big, innovate, and tackle the important challenges facing American agriculture and the nation as a whole.”

Vilsack noted that in the last five years there has been a 20 percent decrease in the number of farmers under 45, that the average American farmer is 57 compared to 55 five years ago and that nearly 30 percent of American farmers are over the age of 65 – almost double what it is in the general workforce.

Vilsack also said the Obama administration is committed to investing more resources and energy to recruit the next generation of farmers, and noted that more than 40 percent of all USDA farm loans have gone to beginning farmers and ranchers.

He noted that while the Farm Service Agency is in charge of the loans to beginning farmers and ranchers who cannot get commercial credit, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides funding for education and mentoring for young farmers and the Risk Management Agency has provided funding to the Farm Credit Council to assist farmers and their lenders grow and sell non-traditional crops.

He also said USDA’s National Agricultural Library is working in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation to develop a “Curriculum and Training Clearinghouse” at, which will serve as a national one-stop source of all beginning farmer and rancher education and training materials online.