Dan Glickman, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, thinks the days of low farm commodity prices are over. At Thursday's Senate Democratic Rural Summit in Washington, D.C., Glickman, now vice president of the Aspen Institute, noted: "That's good news for agriculture. It'll make our rural areas more stable."
The meeting's keynoter suggested that it's already happening. "For the first time in many years, the trend of people moving away from rural areas is slowing" – slightly, but significantly.
The last few years have been the strongest in agriculture in the last 100 years. Glickman expects much the same in the future. "Producing food is big and important business because the [people and hunger] demographics of the world between now and 2050 will make it a key issue everywhere."
Farm bill implications
Farm bill negotiations will also come down to how many dollars are available for farm programs. But priorities must shift to protecting production, conservation, risk management and crop insurance.
Feeding 2.5 billion more people by 2050 will require significantly more research dollars, and more competitive research bids, he emphasizes. Federal research must be significantly upgraded on conserving water resources and soil and pest management.
To keep farms strong, he maintains, the public must make significantly more investments in crop insurance and conservation. "Today, the pressure is on to grow more, not less. We must protect our land and water base as the foundation for the future."
Food security programs such as food stamps now dominate the farm bill. Separating food security from it, surmises this public policy expert, would jeopardize the whole farm program.
"I don't want to see agriculture following others down the road, dividing ourselves on issues," he says. "If someone asks me where to invest, I'll say 'food and agriculture', even when we have to make tough decisions."
More investment capital is very important to research and development in rural America and to keeping U.S. agriculture strong, adds Glickman. From his vantage point, he's likely thinking of public investment via tax dollars.
Farm Progress asked Glickman whether R&D investment by corporate agriculture had replaced at least part of public funds for USDA and land grant university R&D. Uncomfortable with the question, he suggested that corporate-funded research is most often narrowly defined. Given the world's future food needs, it would be no substitute for greater public-funded R&D.