There was representation from various corporations, agencies and organizations, including Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, who spoke on The Fastest Growing Sectors panel. Blake highlighted the changes that have happened in the field to produce higher yields with less water and fertilizer but with a much better environmental outcome for the land. Hurst’s humorous narrative shared his insights into the changes that his grandfather had witnessed over the past century in farm productivity, production practices, the Dust Bowl and this year’s drought on the Hurst family farm. ( Click to read his narrative: MO Blake Hurst comments US Chamber Dec2012)
Jerry Roell of John Deere shared technological innovations that have increased productivity. GPS – just making the tractors drive in a straight line – has allowed farmers to be exacting and decrease waste in seed planting, fertilizer and pesticide application and irrigation usage. Yield maps drive decisions for the next year.
Scott Vitters of Coca Cola has been building supply chain infrastructure around the world with their Plant Bottle Packaging department using plant resins to create recyclable bottles. Coca Cola holds 16% of the plant resin market, but Coke wants to help others use the technology to offer increased economic opportunity in other places. They are partnering with other companies, Heinz for example, to expand the infrastructure so that within the next decade 100% of bottles could be made of plant resin. This technology can offer economic opportunity to many places.
Secretary of Ag Tom Vilsack spoke at length about opportunity in ag – seed genetics, farm machinery, exports, US food security, and regulations. He shared the four pillars of economic opportunity in agriculture: Exports, Local Food Systems, Conservation and Outdoor Recreation, and the Biobased Economy focusing on fuels.
Below is a blog post from the Wholesome Wave Foundation that summarizes Secretary Vilsack’s comments on economic opportunity through retail agriculture:
Sec. of Agriculture Says USDA is Committed to Investing in Rural Communities and Supporting Local and Regional Food Systems
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is on a mission to rejuvenate struggling rural communities and says investing in local and regional agriculture is key to creating more jobs and encouraging people to move back into dwindling rural towns.
Speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Forum on Innovation in Agriculture yesterday, Secretary Vilsack told the packed room of top business leaders that one of the USDA’s four primary rural economic pillars is to continue its advocacy for local and regional agriculture by supporting and encouraging young entrepreneurs who are interested in working in the local food space. Vilsack recognizes that, “It may be difficult for them to compete in a commodity-based market.” He says, “That’s why it’s important to create direct-to-consumer sales opportunities.” The secretary says, “The expansion of farmers markets, the opportunity for community-supported agriculture, the capacity to link local production with local consumers like schools and institutional purchasers is something that we are very committed to at USDA through our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort.”
Since Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food launched, the U.S. has seen a great explosion in demand for locally grown food. Vilsack pointed out that since 2008, there’s been a 67% increase in the number of farmers markets and that, “We now have over 200 food hubs that are supported across the country that allow an aggregation of these locally produced items, making it easier for an institutional purchaser like a school, a university, a prison, a hospital to be able to purchase locally.”
Secretary Vilsack made it clear that he is proud of the fact that the U.S. makes enough food to feed the entire country, which he says is important to our nation’s food and national security. With that, he also made it clear that he wants to continue to expand local and regional food systems and encourage the growth of direct-to-consumer opportunities, such as farmers markets. Vilsack said, “It is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that is growing at a faster pace than virtually any other aspect of agriculture.”
Keeping with the “opportunity for growth” theme, Vilsack announced the launch of a new USDA website –http://www.usda.gov/opportunity– which is the department’s newest tool in helping to promote economic growth in rural communities. We hope you get a chance to visit it and make sure to check out the updated Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign’s updated “Compass” website.
In addition to local and regional food systems, Vilsack said his remaining three pillars for a new economy in rural America are: “exports and production agriculture fueled by increased productivity and research; conservation, meaning our stewardship responsibilities but also expanding outdoor recreational opportunities; and this extraordinary engine of the bio-based economy.”
Read Sec. Vilsack’s full speech here