Vilsack: Farm economy may give Obama Midwest boost

Associated Press

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the Midwest's strong farm economy should give President Barack Obama an advantage as he seeks re-election.

The former Iowa governor said farm income and commodity prices are strong and likely will remain that way for the rest of the year. The Democrat said Obama can take some credit for those trends, arguing that the president has put a heavy focus on boosting exports of farm commodities and made increasing trade a top priority.

That, Vilsack said, could be crucial in the November election since several Midwest states are seen as swing states. Vilsack said one of his jobs this year will be reminding people how well the farm economy is doing and Obama's role in that success.

"The fact is we have record farm income, record exports and one out of every 12 jobs is connected to agriculture and it's a good news story," Vilsack said during Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. "Agriculture has been helping to get this country back on track and I think it's basically providing a road map for recovery."

Vilsack noted that the Midwest has seen a 14 percent increase in manufacturing, which he said is not only due to the auto industry but also farm income.

"Farmers who have income are in a position to purchase implements," he said, adding that was good news in communities like Waterloo and Ankeny with major implement manufacturers.

"We need to make sure the people understand in this country the important role that agriculture plays," he said. "I think it's underappreciated. Farmers and ranchers are extraordinary in terms of their productivity, and we need to get them a little bit more attention and appreciate them a little bit more."

Vilsack was a two-term Iowa governor before unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He was picked to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture shortly after Obama was elected president.

Asked if he would like to stay on should Obama win a second term in office, Vilsack said that would be the president's call. But he didn't sound eager to look for another job.

"I love my job, I've got the greatest job in America," Vilsack said. "Clearly I think the president is going to be re-elected and I think his USDA has been a department he can be proud of, the achievements we have been able to accomplish."