A resolution for rural America

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

by Chuck Hassebrook

It’s time for an adult conversation with rural Americans, said Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack. With our shrinking population, he said, we are becoming less relevant to American politics and we need to reverse it.

He makes an important point. But it goes both ways.

It’s also time for us rural folks to have an adult conversation with our representatives, because their politics in Washington are becoming less relevant to the challenges that confront us.

Take the farm bill, for example. The big fight was about whether farm payments would fit the form favored by Midwestern or southern interests. But the perfect payment won’t help rural America if we lose our family farms. And as long as Washington provides unlimited farm and crop insurance subsidies to mega farms, it will subsidize them to drive family size farms out of business. But it’s not being addressed.

Our small towns are also fighting for their lives — but not for lack of potential.

There are promising small business opportunities in small towns.  And we have learned from experience that providing aspiring entrepreneurs with reasonable credit, business training and help with business planning sprouts successful rural businesses.

But federal investment in rural small business and community development has fallen in half over the decade.  We must invest in our future, if we are to have a future. But you don’t hear that in the farm bill debate.

Washington politics are losing relevance. It’s up to us — as engaged citizens — to get them on course.

Chuck Hassebrook is executive director of The Center for Rural Affairs, an advocacy group that champions the causes of family farms and rural communities.  He can be reached at chuckh@cfra.org.