Sit down with 6 former ag secretaries

  • 01

    Six former USDA Secretaries recently attended the Landon Lecture series at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. K-State agricultural economics professor emeritus Barry Flinchbaugh, who's worked closely with each of the secretaries in crafting farm bill legislation, organized the meeting.

  • 02

    From left: Ed Schafer, John Block, Dan Glickman, K-State professor emeritus Barry Flinchbaugh, Mike Espy, Ann Veneman and Mike Johanns (Clayton Yeutter was invited but could not attend) were on the dais at the request of Flinchbaugh.

  • 03

    Ed Schafer, ag secretary for President George W. Bush from 2008-09, said a robust farm bill is necessary to ensure a safety net for farmers and keep the U.S. food-secure. “With disease and insect pressure, a farmer can be impacted through no fault of their own. We became dependent on other countries for energy, we don’t want to be dependent upon them for food. We need to provide security to agriculture.”

  • 04

    John Block served as Ag Secretary under Ronald Reagan from 1981-86. He emphasized that technology is vital to the world’s farmers’ ability to feed 9 billion people by 2050. “Doubling production is what we’ll have to do by 2050. I have no doubt what we can do this; look what we’ve done over the past 50 years. We cannot let the critics stop us from using the new technology, or we will not meet our objective.”

  • 05

    Feeding a growing world will require acceptance of innovation by farmers in developing countries, said Dan Glickman, who served as USDA Secretary under Bill Clinton from 1995-2001. “There are a lot of answers to feeding the world. For instance, in Ethiopia, there is a tremendous amount of food waste. They need to understand modern conservation methods, fertilizer, and pest control,” he said.

  • 06

    Mike Espy, Bill Clinton’s first USDA Secretary, said there should be an expectation that the food SNAP beneficiaries buy should be reasonably healthy. “You can’t buy cigarettes and beer with food stamps. I’m not trying to infringe upon personal choice, but when we keep paying for negative health outcomes with regards to obesity, it is something we can consider.” Espy was USDA Secretary under Bill Clinton from 1994-95.

  • 07

    Following her tenure as George W. Bush’s first USDA Secretary, Ann Veneman spent several years working on global food and nutrition issues. Veneman said global food programs have done a credible job at getting calories to many who are food insecure. “Now we need to get nutrition to people,” she said.

  • 08

    Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) is a proponent of technology in agriculture, and he credits the land-grant university system with disseminating technology to the nation’s farmers. “We need to celebrate all aspects of agriculture, from the very large operations to the very small ones,” said Johanns, who was USDA Secretary under George W. Bush. “There has to be room for all parts of agriculture, not just one segment.”

  • 09

    Flinchbaugh has played a part of the development of each Farm Bill since 1968. He still teaches Ag Policy at K-State, and invited the former secretaries to address his class. “This event was a lot of fun,” he said after the Ag Secretaries participated in the Landon Lecture to the general public. “What a way for an old man to celebrate the twilight of his career.” 

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Former USDA leaders chat big issues facing ag, food & policy sectors today.

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