Our past couple of blogs have reflected on the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, now pope emeritus, and how his teachings have inspired our work here at the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. For us, it was a combination of his call to protect Creation and the renewed importance of agriculture. Our mission for several decades has been on these very concerns, so it’s always a blessing to us when the Holy Father lifts these up for all people of faith to consider.
Blessed John Paul certainly did so during his time as pope (1978-2005) and this was admirably followed by Pope Benedict (2005-2013). We now wait and watch for a new pope to shepherd us for the foreseeable future. All eyes seem to be on Rome; the faithful will soon fill St. Peter’s Square and await the white smoke.
Back here in the States, I wait and watch on a much more mundane matter: what is Congress going to do about environmental and agricultural concerns? Our elected officials are stuck on the politics of federal spending (a debate worth having, but one most of us would prefer without all the political posturing that leads to… well, doesn’t seem to lead any where.)
So I was heartened to hear reports about a keynote address that Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, gave at the recent Commodity Classics convention in Kissimmee, Florida. If you haven’t heard of this convention, it’s an annual event and trade show for corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers. Secretary Vilsack has spoken there before, but this year he let his exasperation at the political deadlocks show.
According to farm press reports, Vilsack received a thunderous ovation from the convention crowd when he admonished the U.S. Congress to “forget about your party, forget about the people who paid for your last campaign, forget about your next campaign, and just do your job.”
Secretary Vilsack specifically urged Congress to end the sequester and give government agencies a budget. Then right after that, Congress should get along with the business of passing a workable five-year farm plan that will allow farmers to do their job.
“In a modern, democratic society this (sequestration) should not happen. The short-term damage and potential long-term damage is too great to risk,” Vilsack said.
“If everyone would just give a little, we could get this sequester solved, but no one wants to give up anything. Every American I talk to understands this concept, but Congress is just not listening to what we are telling them.”
Vilsack was making the point that he felt like the U.S. Department of Agriculture was “spending much too much time on survival and much too little time on helping the farmers of America continue to contribute significantly to the economic recovery we so badly want and need.”
But Vilsack was addressing more than an economic question. He continued on to say that agriculture is facing “the most pressing social issue in the history of mankind: how to feed a global population which, if it keep on its current trend, will exceed our ability to feed.”
He was making a moral argument, and he assured everyone that rural America has the ability to help lead the way in solving this global challenge. We just need our political leaders to show their support and ensure the programs that help farmers remain viable and sustainable.