A big highlight at Commodity Classic was the arrival of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who gave the keynote address, sat in on a press conference for questions, and later walked the tradeshow floor to meet attendees and exhibitors.
Vilsack asserted the role of USDA to support the rural economy and serve as its advocate. The precipitous drop in rural population over recent decades, now below 1% of the total population of the country, “creates a series of challenges for farming and agriculture,” he explained, “to have the kind of political support it needs to help create the environment in which farmers and ranchers can succeed. It is going to be important and necessary for USDA to support and assist farmers and ranchers in building alliances and recognition of the status and circumstances of rural communities so that people will invest and understand.”
In particular, improving trade relations on a country-by-country basis to tear down trade barriers where they exist, and invest in more fragile governments to put them in a position to conduct agricultural trade with the U.S. will be important steps forward. “Every billion dollars of farm trade supports 9,000 jobs,” Vilsack noted.
Vilsack also championed the building of the domestic biofuels market, with investments in research into alternative fuelstocks and technologies.
On biotechnology, Vilsack said USDA is supporting a multifaceted approach that articulates the benefits of biotechnology such as improved water quality through reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, improved production, and reduced impact on climate change. He also would like to see countries that have adopted biotechnology to join the U.S. in championing biotech crops to raise the credibility of the message with countries that might be skeptical of a U.S.-centric message.