Roger Simon: Be thankful for American farm production
Whatever you guessed, you probably guessed too high.
"We pay as low as 6 percent," Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, tells me at a conference table in his office. "In most other industrialized countries, it's 20-25 percent."
In addition to being a relatively small amount of our income, our supply of edibles is virtually guaranteed. "America does not really have to depend on the rest of the world for food," Vilsack says.
For now. It doesn't all happen by accident. Agricultural policy is actually very complicated, but Vilsack, a former two-term governor of Iowa, is really into it.
"It's tied to national security," he says. "In 40 years, we will have to increase agriculture by 70 percent globally to feed the world." But the amount of land devoted to agriculture is shrinking - think climate change and urban development - and because of that, farmers will have to produce more food with less land and less water.
Enter the American farmer. "Farming is under-appreciated and misunderstood," Vilsack says. "It is a sophisticated business."
One of the things that make the farm bill so controversial is that it controls food stamps. "And there is a tendency on the part of some to view (food stamp) beneficiaries as welfare queens," Vilsack says.
According to Vilsack, more than 15 percent of the nation receives food assistance, and even though the average amount for a family of four is only about $340 per month, it all adds up to $74.6 billion per fiscal year.
"We need to have a better appreciation of the contribution of rural America, not for well-to-do farmers but for all America," Vilsack says.
"I would like them to think about how, as an American, you are more secure because America is producing all you need," he says. "And somewhere in America on this Thanksgiving, there is a guy in the fields, still working."
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