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Secretary of Ag Vilsack Shares His Top Five Accomplishments

Editor’s Note: Tom Vilsack has served two terms as the U.S. secretary of agriculture. His term will end as the next administration takes office. Successful Farming magazine offered Vilsack the opportunity to give a send-off message to readers.

I’ve had the privilege of serving as secretary of agriculture for nearly eight years . Since arriving in January 2009, our team at USDA has overseen the greatest eight-year period  for farm incomes, exports, and overall agricultural productivity in our nation’s history. Much of this success is due to the hard work and innovation of those working, living, and raising their families in rural America.

When I arrived in 2009, with the recession growing by the day, my goal was simple: Help revitalize and retool rural economies for the 21st century. Thankfully, that historic period of growth in American agriculture has correlated with a resurgence of the rural economy. Of course, neither occurred by chance.

In fact, between 2009 and today, USDA has embarked upon the most aggressive rural investment and development strategy in our department’s 154-year history – in everything from homegrown renewable energy and biobased products, to farmers markets, access to broadband, historic investments in community facilities and housing, and more. Much has happened since 2009, but the following five accomplishments summarize our work on behalf of rural America.

1 The resurgence of rural America.

Over the past two years, rural areas of the country have added 500,000 jobs, the rural unemployment rate is below 6% for the first time since the recession, the number of children struggling with hunger is at a historic low, wages grew 3.4% in 2015, and the rate of uninsured in rural areas is at an all-time low.

2 The dramatic growth of biobased manufacturing.

The biobased products industry contributed $393 billion and 4.2 million jobs to the U.S. economy in 2015. The increased use of biobased products currently displaces about 300 million gallons of petroleum per year – the equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road. 

3 The thriving local-regional food systems.

Industry estimates show the value of local food sales growing from $12 billion in 2014 to $20 billion by 2019. Between 2009 and 2015, from the smallest on-farm projects like high tunnels to large-scale investments like food hubs, USDA invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. More than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products locally.

4 The strongest exports in history.

Since 2009, the U.S. has exported more than $1 trillion in ag products – a record period of trade marked by a consistent trade surplus; the removal of hundreds of unfair trade barriers; the opening or expansion of key markets for products such as beef, dairy, fruits, and vegetables; and more. Agriculture, the second-most productive sector of the U.S. economy, has benefited from strong risk-management tools and a durable safety net supported by this administration and bipartisan members of Congress.

5 The unquestioned commitment to conservation.

USDA has partnered with as many as 500,000 farmers and ranchers each year to implement conservation practices on more than 400 million acres. As a result, nitrogen in runoff from farm fields has been reduced by over 3.5 billion pounds over the past six years, phosphorus runoff has been reduced by over 700 million pounds since 2009, and net greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by over 416 million metric tons since 2009, the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year.

it’s been my honor

I'm proud of all we’ve accomplished together. For these past eight years, it has been my honor to champion the causes of those living, working, and raising their families in rural America.

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