Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the importance of agriculture and rural America to the economic recovery and the strength of the nation. Vilsack touted America's farmers, ranchers and growers as some of our nation's greatest assets, responsible for one out of every 12 jobs: providers of our food, feed, fiber, and fuel while helping to drive our national economy. He highlighted ways the USDA and the Obama administration have worked to improve the lives of rural Americans and grow the agricultural economy over the past three years by developing new markets at home and abroad, maintaining a strong safety net, investing in conservation and research, and encouraging the next generation of farmers.
"Thanks to the productivity of America's hardworking farmers, ranchers and producers, U.S. agriculture continues to be a bright spot in America's economy and a driving force behind export growth, job creation, and our nation's competitiveness," said Vilsack. "U.S. agriculture accounts for 1 in 12 jobs, provides American consumers with safe and affordable foods, contributes to record incomes for farm families, and is helping reduce our reliance on foreign oil. Through our efforts at USDA and the work of the White House Rural Council, the Obama Administration is supporting farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as they help strengthen our nation's economy."
Vilsack noted USDA's work to strengthen the rural economy over the past three years, including:
- USDA is maintaining a strong safety net to help keep American agriculture profitable and keep farmers on the farm. Over the past three years, USDA's crop insurance program has paid out almost $16.2 billion to more than 325,000 farmers who lost crops to natural disasters. Other programs have provided nearly $3.5 billion in aid to help more than 250,000 farmers and ranchers recover from natural disasters.
- USDA has provided 103,000 loans to family farmers and has worked with over a half a million farmers to pursue conservation agreements and easements - enrolling a record number of acres in conservation programs and contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the rural economy that supports many jobs.
- USDA has made historic investments in America's rural communities, financing 50,000 rural small and mid-sized businesses - helping to create or save 266,000 jobs.
- USDA has invested in broadband service for nearly seven million rural residents and helped to build or renovate over 6,200 community facilities including hospitals, schools, fire and police stations and libraries.
- USDA has helped 456,000 rural families in more than 21,000 communities buy or refinance a home.
Vilsack also touted the work of the first-ever White House Rural Council, that was established by President Obama in June 2011. Chaired by Secretary Vilsack, the Council gives the Administration the ability to cut across large federal agencies to deliver results for rural families and businesses and provides a unique opportunity to hear directly from people across the country on how to grow the economy and create jobs in rural America.
Since its launch, the White House Rural Council has supported a broad spectrum of rural initiatives including a $350 million commitment in SBA funding to rural small businesses over the next 5 years, launching a series of conferences to connect investors with rural start-ups, creating capital marketing teams to pitch federal funding opportunities to private investors interested in making rural investments, making job search information available at 2,800 local USDA offices nationwide, making HHS loans available to help more than 1,300 Critical Access Hospitals recruit additional staff, and helping rural hospitals purchase software and hardware to implement health IT. USDA and Navy have also announced a partnership to advance the use of next generation biofuels in Navy operations.