The 2014 Farm Bill, passed by Congress and signed last week by President Obama, strengthens the farm safety net and ensures vital nutrition assistance for hardworking children and families during tough times. It closes loopholes and achieves much-needed reform, saving billions of taxpayer dollars.
Those accomplishments are significant and should be commended, particularly at a time when bipartisan victories in Washington are so rare.
We have already started work on a plan to implement the new Farm Bill. However, many of its provisions are new and complex. As we have done every step of the way in helping to craft this legislation, we will work to keep Congress and our stakeholders informed as we identify and prioritize everything—new regulations, guidance and other activities—that will be required so that we can implement the legislation in an efficient, timely and responsible manner.
Much of the debate leading up to the passage of the farm bill focused on the farm safety net and the food safety net—key provisions of the legislation, to be clear. Yet as we move forward with implementation, I am struck by the myriad ways the new Farm Bill also makes small, yet critical, investments that help foster the potential in our rural communities, long underappreciated and under-realized. It provides resources that give us the opportunity to restructure and revitalize the rural economy in ways that, without a farm bill, were out of reach.
The new Farm Bill invests in the endless possibility to use what is already grown and raised on our farms and ranches in innovative and unexpected ways. It expands the potential to strengthen rural manufacturing, particularly of products made from renewable materials from our farms and forests. Rural America desperately needs those jobs, and every American benefits from our expanded competitiveness in this globally emerging market.
It also recognizes the economic opportunity inherent in the changing dynamic of consumer tastes. The new Farm Bill provides new grants and loans for entrepreneurs—many of whom are just beginning to farm—that want to break into expanding markets for organic and locally- and regionally-grown foods. Money spent locally very often continues to circulate locally, expanding the potential for job creation in rural small businesses and spurring economic growth across the country.
The new Farm Bill takes an innovative approach to agricultural research, establishing a new foundation that will leverage private sector funding to support groundbreaking research. Our farmers, ranchers and foresters are increasingly facing the pressures of a growing population and extreme weather patterns due to a changing climate. Their job security—and the future security of our food supply and our nation—depends on how well we equip them for those challenges today.
We are fortunate as a nation because we have the ability to grow and create virtually everything we need to survive. Our farmers, ranchers and foresters, and those in supporting industries, give us the freedom to be whoever and accomplish whatever we want because we don’t have to worry about where our food comes from. Indirectly, the products of their livelihoods—our food, fiber and forest products—ensure a brighter, more stable future for all of us.
That is why this Farm Bill is not just a farm bill, or a food bill, or a “business as usual” bill. This Farm Bill is an investment in every American, no matter where they live.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture.