Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

Dems highlighted former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan for new markets and revenue streams for farmers during a rural Wisconsin roundtable hosted by 3rd District Congressman Ron Kind.

Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, was also a panelist at today’s virtual event. He warned this could be the first time in 60 years that there is no agriculture trade surplus. He noted that in his time in office under Barack Obama, there was an up to $25 billion surplus — meaning the U.S. sold more than it bought. Right now that is below $3 billion, he said. 

“Why? Because the president took on China,” he said, referring to President Trump. “Everybody can make the case that China is a bad actor. The problem is the president went alone.”

Because the U.S. didn’t make an alliance of nations unfairly treated by China, Vilsack said China had the opportunity to retaliate with its own tariffs. He also knocked Trump for choosing big oil over farmers and mismanaging the pandemic.

“In addition to having a trade policy that makes sense and supports the renewable fuel industry, is also to figure out ways in which we can create new revenue streams for farmers,” Vilsack said. “Carbon sequestration, the ability to capture methane and convert it, the ability to take agricultural waste and use it in biobased manufacturing processes to produce chemicals… So if there is a president who does a trade war that damages one commodity, you’ve got several other ways to make money.”

Former state Ag Secretary Brad Pfaff, now running for the La Crosse-area state Senate seat, suggested Wisconsin use DATCP’s partnerships between farms and local organizations such as food banks, as a template to continue the work to shorten supply chains and expand local markets.

“These are real opportunities to provide farmers direct marketing opportunities to hospitals, as well as local schools and other institutions, in which they can see a higher revenue return,” Pfaff said. “We can take those lessons that we learned here and institute those into a way in which we continue to move forward, in which farmers feel they are assisting when communities are hurting.”

Vilsack also touted Biden’s plan for bringing American agriculture to a net zero carbon emitter — producing all the food the nation needs without contributing greenhouse gases — noting rural American is central to that role in mitigating climate change and bridging the urban-rural divide.

“I like to say you can sequester a lot more carbon in Brooklyn, Iowa than you can Brooklyn, New York,” he said. “There is a substantial amount of land where farmers, if they are incentivized in the right way, can create a tremendous storage capacity for carbon, offsetting other industries, creating new revenue streams for farmers.”

Vilsack noted that dairy farms in Wisconsin and the U.S. are some of the only dairy farms in the world that have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions over the last 10 years, but said “there’s still more work to do.”

“American agriculture is ready for this; they want to be part of the solution; they just need a partner in the federal government and foundations and others who are concerned about climate creating those revenue streams that will encourage far more conservation,” he said. “What is not to like about that plan? It is a plan that speaks to Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It’s a plan that unifies us over an issue that sometimes divides us.”

-By Stephanie Hoff

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