Is the fact that Congress failed to pass a new five-year farm bill in 2012 a sign of the agriculture sector's declining influence on Capitol Hill-and with the public in general?
That question is being discussed in the ag community, especially after what some are labeling "the fiasco" surrounding last week's extension of the 2008 farm bill as part of the fiscal cliff package passed by Congress.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack first broached that subject in December-and in a recent interview with Brownfield, he reiterated his concern that rural America is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country.
"I think we need a broader message here-and I think 2012 was a wake-up call for all of us about the need for a more proactive message," Vilsack says. "A need to reach out and develop new and stronger alliances-and to be getting the agricultural message not just in agricultural publications and in agricultural meetings and discussions, but in discussions throughout the economy and throughout the government."
Vilsack says rural America needs to be more willing to embrace new ideas and opportunities-to adopt a new attitude-to, in his words, "to replace that preservation mindset with a growth mindset".
"You have to always have a growth mentality," he says. "You always have to have the mentality of what we can do to grow and expand opportunity in rural areas.
"To the extent that we're just trying to hang on to what we have, that basically puts us in a mentality where we're not looking for those growth opportunities."
Vilsack says agriculture needs to be more strategic in the fights that it picks, because those fights are often misinterpreted in some corners.