A highlight of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual meeting last week in Kansas City was a panel featuring three former secretaries of agriculture – Bob Bergland of Minnesota who served under President Carter from 1977-81; John Block of Illinois who served President Reagan from 1981-86; and Clayton Yeutter of Nebraska who was agriculture secretary for George H.W. Bush from 1989-91 and also was U.S. Trade Representative for Reagan from 1985-89.
It was nearly two hours with these three outspoken gentlemen who took a variety of questions from farm broadcasters, so I’ll break it down into a few bite-sized pieces.
The former secretaries first took the opportunity to reflect on their time running USDA and tell a few “war stories.” Interestingly, all three talked about how much more bipartisan government was during their times. This was the longest segment of the program at 30 minutes, but that’s really only 10 minutes for each one to sum up some very interesting years they spent as agriculture secretary. Ag Secretaries opening comments
With the panel happening the day after the election, that question was number one and the three had answers that reflected their party affiliations – Bergland being the Democrat of the three. As to when a farm bill might be complete – Bergland said he had no idea, Yeutter expects a temporary fix and Block said the fiscal issues are more important. Ag Secretaries on election and farm bill
How about government regulations impacting agriculture? Block predicts the next four years will bring more regulations, and Yeutter again agreed while Bergland made the case that some regulations are necessary. Ag Secretaries on government regulation
A broad question encompassed the long term viability of current high prices, land values and feeding the world. Bergland said the population demands may force us to eat more cereal and less meat in the future, Yeutter believes feeding the nine billion by 2050 won’t be as big a problem as people are making it out to be, and Block talked a bit about food versus fuel. Ag Secretaries on feeding the world
Asked about the RFS and whether it should be considered a subsidy to corn growers, Bergland said he was dead set against all subsidies and thinks the budget will force the government to eliminate all subsides. Yeutter predicted that EPA will keep the RFS intact and Block agreed. Ag Secretaries on RFS
Did the secretaries have any advice about how to defend modern agricultural practices, specifically GMOs? Bergland recalled hysterical reactions in the 1930s when hybrid corn was first introduced, and Yeutter pointed out the international implications of the GMO debate. Ag Secretaries on GMOs
There was lots more, but those were a few highlights. It was an entertaining conversation!