Rural groups react to task force report

The Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, a government-wide group including more than 22 federal agencies and led by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Jan. 8 released a report to President Donald Trump. The 237-page document identifies the needs and opportunities of rural communities and recommends over 100 legislative, regulatory and policy changes to address them.

“That task force is looking for regulatory burdens that stand in the way of growing our farm economy and rural communities,” American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall said during his group’s annual meeting at Nashville, Tennessee.

The task force’s recommendations, as released by the administration, cover five areas: e-connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technology and economic development.

E-connectivity: through reliable and affordable high-speed internet connectivity.

Improving quality of life: through modern utilities, affordable housing, efficient transportation and reliable employment integrated with social indicators like access to medical services, public safety, education and community resilience.

Supporting a rural workforce: Through identification of employment needs, attracting available workers from urban and rural centers alike and providing the workforce with training and education to best fill the available needs, along with partnerships with local businesses and organizations to identify gaps, to work with all levels of educational institutions to provide career training and development, to fine-tune existing training programs and to grow apprenticeship opportunities to develop the required workforce.

Harnessing agricultural technological innovation: Through increased crop yields and quality, nutritional value and food safety. Innovations in manufacturing, mining and other non-agricultural industries can enhance worker efficiency and safety.

Economic development: Infusing rural areas with stronger businesses and agricultural economies through expanding funding options to increase the productivity of farmers and ranchers that will lead to the enhanced viability and competitiveness of rural America. Reducing regulatory burdens and attracting private capital will support the ultimate mission of empowering rural America.

Besides AFBF’s positive response to the task force report, other voices sounded their approval. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson released the following statement:

“National Farmers Union applauds the Task Force and Secretary Perdue on their efforts to help rural America grow and thrive. For too long, rural communities have lagged behind their urban counterparts, both socially and economically, and the federal government has not provided the tools or funding necessary to bridge the gap. The priorities outlined in the report are essential to tackling longstanding disparities, by both bolstering the economies of, as well as improving the quality of life within, rural communities.

“Farmers Union appreciates the administration’s focus on broadband access, as its unreliability and unavailability is one of the biggest issues plaguing rural areas. Expansion of broadband holds the potential to address many other rural concerns, including economic development, educational opportunities and access to health care. We hope the president’s executive orders will reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers and encourage broadband development.”

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Illinois, said, “Addressing workforce issues and federal rules and maintaining export markets, coupled with the recently approved tax cuts, will help revitalize rural America. President Trump, Agriculture Secretary (Sonny) Perdue and the team at the White House National Economic Council are to be commended for putting together a plan that will aid farmers and ranchers.

“This administration recognizes that rural America plays a vital role in the U.S. economy and, importantly, in ensuring our food security and it’s working to bolster the farm economy. It is taking actions that will allow us to do what we do best: produce the safest, most nutritious and most abundant food at the lowest cost in the world.”

National Cotton Council Chairman Ronnie Lee, a Georgia cotton producer, said, “It is encouraging to see that at the highest levels of our government, President Trump and Secretary Perdue, along with other Cabinet members, recognize the struggles we see every day in rural America. Not only do they acknowledge these struggles – they have charted a path forward to address them and help ensure a bright future for rural America that will allow us to continue clothing and feeding the world.” American Seed Trade Association President and CEO Andrew W. LaVigne said: “We’re pleased that the Trump administration recognizes the critical importance of U.S. agriculture and the rural economy.

“We’re especially encouraged by the Task Force’s focus on technological innovation. The seed industry is built on a long history of innovation; and continued innovation is paramount to the future of agriculture, and our quality of life. Plant breeding innovation holds tremendous promise in finding solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by our society todayfrom soil and water health, to nutrition and global food security. Newer breeding methods like gene editing have exciting potential for both public and commercial plant breeders in developed and developing countries and can be used across all agriculturally important crops, including food, feed, fiber and fuel crops. However, the full potential of these and other evolving breeding methods will not be fully realized unless we have a policy climate both at home and abroad that encourages continued progress and widespread access to new and emerging technologies.”

Center for Education Reform Founder and CEO Jeanne Allen said, “While this is promising news, education opportunity must be the foundation if the new initiative is to succeed. In its first 100 days, and since, CER has urged the Trump administration to consider efforts to bolster the use of existing and expected federal funds to create the potential for expanded, personalized learning that employs 21st century technologies. We’ve recommended the use of new infrastructure dollars to support public–private partnerships that will drive the creation of new schools, connected by new roads and new digital pathways, that can encourage more education for learners at all levels. This would not only dramatically improve the quality of education in rural America, but increase options and opportunities for learning, which spurs the economic growth the president is hoping to achieve and entices people to stay, or move to these improved communities.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].

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