Secretary of Agriculture spoke to a group of over 1,500 farmers and ranchers at Commodity Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., this morning. He championed America's farmers for their willingness to conserve and be sustainable as well as their efforts to build rural America.

Vilsack also talked about the need for a new farm bill and the impacts of the sequester on the USDA and the programs it provides, ultimately trickling down to the farmer. 

Here are some highlights and excerpts from his speech.

  • We not only feed the rest of the world but we create job opportunities here. Not only a good provider but a job creator.
  • We appreciate farmer willingness to be best stewards of land and water. Most of energy country uses comes from rural America.
  • Allowed us to reduce reliance in foreign oil to lowest in decade.
  • Farmers have made us a stronger and more secure nation.
  • Despite worst drought since 30s, still had 5th largest corn crop in history. Because we embrace technology.
  • If we do better job of collecting data could have better forecasting opportunity.
  • Investments must be taken to improve water storage quality and transportation. 
  • Drought was a wakeup call to make sure we understand impact of changing climate.
  • We've got to think about ways to help you mitigate consequences of weather extremes, new pests diseases. 
  • Folks in Washington finally realize that ag research has been ignored. Interested in developing new products from that research.
  • Power of ag research: solving problems for producers and creating jobs.
  • Additional research on multi cropping and cover crops. Reduce barriers in crop insurance for cover crops.
  • Unlimited opportunity represented by farmers to create new industries that haven't existed before to help rebuild rural areas and redefine industry. Make our country stronger and more secure.
  • All of the work depends on congress giving us a farm bill-one that creates a strong safety net to ensue protection. 
  • Paid out nearly 14.7 billion in indemnity payments. Crop insurance will pay out more than it took in.
  • Bill must continue commitment to conservation but be flexible to meet needs of producers. 
  • Need a budget before we can get to a farm bill.
  • Because of sequester USDA operating budget will be reduced by $1-1.5 billion.
  • $34-35 million fewer credit dollars available after today for Farmers after sequester signed.

Call on Washington

Vilsack also addressed the relevance of rural America and apologized for the lack of action in Washington, asking farmers to raise their voices and be heard.

"I have to apologize to all of you. This is crazy. In a functioning democracy this shouldn't happen. Should recognize we have fiscal issues and need to address them. If everybody just gave a little we could get this done. In Washington, no one is listening to all of you. We're going to do our level best at USDA to do this equitably. We're going to have 3 basic principles: No one should get a break, try to do this in least disruptive way, need to care about those who work at USDA. This is my commitment to farmers. It's going to require a lot of thought and time - time not being spent on the things that are really important.

"Rural America is one of the most relevant sectors in America. Its political relevance is in question; their ability to get things done in Washington, because there are fewer and fewer rural folks and farmers. For us to be politically relevant and get farm bill done so you can do what you do best, we must figure out how to enlarge political relevance. We need to encourage engagement from other farm bill users; be strategically aligned, strategically align with nutrition."

In closing, Vilsack reminded growers that the younger generation is important and available to help agriculture.

"We need to have a proactive message to young people. Rural America can do it. If you want to remake American economy, that opportunity is in rural America. Kids are excited about opportunities. We need to move the message beyond difficulties and challenges. There are no better messengers than farmers, but the messages must be proactive. Extend reach of farming, ranching and producing. It's an American story. 

“Stand up, say to leaders in Washington D.C.: forget about party, leaders, funders, campaign. Think about me, think about us. End the sequester. Get a budget. Get a farm bill. We'll do what we're great at doing; we'll feed the world. We will do our job, just do yours.”