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Vilsack: Rural America a 'bright spot'

The rural economy's healther this year than it was when he was named President Barack Obama's secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack said late last week.

The former Iowa governor said Friday his agency's followed through on support for the ag economy, an especially daunting task today as the macroeconomy continues to struggle, Vilsack says. Namely, the farm safety net has remained intact, helping farmers hit by natural disasters make ends meet. In 3 years, Vilsack says USDA's paid out more than $16 billion in crop insurance claims to more than 325,000 farmers.

"Other programs have provided nearly $3.5 billion in aid to help more than 250,000 farmers and ranchers recover from natural disasters," he says.

On top of payouts from federal crop insurance, Vilsack says his agency's issued more than 100,000 loans to farmers in need of support, just one of many programs that's helped the ag economy weather the recession in better shape than the general economy.

"And we have 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 our rural economy and supporting many jobs," Vilsack says.

These types of programs have helped agriculture remain a "bright spot" in a time when Americans are struggling with an economy that's seen unemployment skyrocket and income and investments erode.

"Farm family household income is up and ag producers had their best income in over 40 years," Vilsack says. "Over the last 3 years, the unemployment rate in rural America has dropped more quickly than anyplace else in the country."

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