Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the John Deere Des Moines Works on USDA priorities for the 2012 farm bill.

Below are the Secretary’s remarks as delivered:

“I appreciate the opportunity to be here at John Deere to talk about a subject which I think is a very, very important; and that is about the priorities for the upcoming legislation, often called the farm bill.

“Now, this legislation and the bills that Congress will pass is really about keeping pace with the changing needs of agriculture and the challenges which face rural America. It's about providing an adequate food supply for our nation and the world. And the choices that these lawmakers will make will help shape agricultural, food, and rural development policy and will help determine what our farms and our rural communities look like. 

“It's also going to determine where our energy supply comes from and if we all eat. So we need to think bigger than the words "farm bill" suggest. After all, for decades this bill has been about a whole lot more than just farming. It's been about energy, it's been about nutrition, it's been about jobs. Now, some may keep calling it the farm bill out of convenience, or maybe even out of tradition; but I think we're doing it a disservice. 

“If we want this legislation to have the support of the other 98 percent of Americans who don't farm, we've got to remind those Americans why this legislation matters to them and to their families.

“Now, first of all, I want to acknowledge that there are considerable external pressures that will affect this effort. Fiscal and political realities about the size of our debt and the deficit have inspired a very tight budget environment.

“Last week a bipartisan leadership group in Congress submitted a proposal to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Supercommittee, to cut $23 billion out of the bill over the next ten years. And though these numbers are by no means final, it is a reminder to all of us that if we want this legislation to accomplish a lot, we have to understand that there will be considerably less funding in which to do it. So our priorities must be clear.  We simply need to do more with less.

“We have to simplify existing programs; we need to reduce redundant provisions; and we need to put a premium on creating innovative solutions to address our current and future problems, also recognizing the importance of making targeted investments to keep agricultural productivity high and our rural communities vibrant. So today I want to offer some thoughts on those priorities. 

“Let me begin with our responsibility to strengthen American agriculture. Many folks don't realize this, but American farmers and our agricultural industries contribute in no small way to the economic health and strength of our great country. 

“Agriculture is responsible for one out of every twelve jobs in our economy.  The folks who work here, the UAW machinist folks who I met with earlier, they can tell you the work in this plant is directly tied to how significant and strengthened the agricultural economy is. 

“What we do on the farm ripples through the economy and helps to create jobs, particularly when agriculture is thriving. What's more, the productivity of American farmers and ranchers help American families stretch their paychecks.