"I feel like I'm in the presence of greatness," said Tom Vilsack when he spoke to farmers at the general session of Commodity Classic this week. "American agriculture allowed this country be strongest in world. Don't let a single person forget that! You all belong in a hall of fame."
The Secretary of Agriculture covered a number of topics including farm program signup. And for those who aren't quite ready to make the end-of-February deadlines, there was good news.
"We're extending the time for reallocating base acres and updating yields to March 31," said Vilsack.
The deadline to enroll in ARC or PLC will remain March 31, and Vilsack urged those growers who know what their choice will be to go ahead and sign up before the deadline.
"If you're certain about your election choices on PLC or ARC, sign up," he said. "You have the option and we encourage you to exercise that option. We'll fill in the space for you (if you don't choose a program), but we want you to choose what's best for you."
Vilsack also talked about the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade promotion.
"Asia will increase by 2.7 billion middle class consumers in the next 15 years," he said. "We have an opportunity now to open that trade. If we don't get the Trans-Pacific Partnership done, it'll go elsewhere. There will be several hundred other agreements that will exclude the U.S."
What's at stake if we don't sign the partnership: "The ability of the U.S. to compete effectively and fairly in an emerging market opportunity."
Vilsack urged farmers to have the same commitment to trade promotion as they did to the farm bill.
"You were compelling, you were forceful, you were persuasive. That same commitment has to be applied to trade," he said. "Get engaged. Help convince this country that it's in our best economic and security interests to get these trade agreements through.
"We're not letting China write the rules," said Vilsack. "It's a doggone important time to engage all of you."
In talking about GMOs, Vilsack noted that people are concerned about pesticide use, growing crops on fewer acres and meeting the global food challenge.
"Science is giving us the capacity to increase productivity and reduce need for chemicals," he said. "There is no health or safety risk with GMOs."
The secretary urged farmers to focus on the positive: We're using less chemicals, less water and producing more food.
In closing, Vilsack commended farmers once again.
"What an incredible story agriculture is," he said. "We've been on the defensive for far to long. It's time to be proud and send a message of positivity about agriculture.