On Thursday, asked if the next few days are make-or-break for ongoing farm bill negotiations, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack chose his words carefully.

“I think Congress is able to act very quickly when there’s a will and a way,” said Vilsack during a conference call. “But I also think that Congress acts best and acts most expeditiously when there are timelines…

“We’ve been trying to underscore the importance of getting the message to the countryside that we’re going to get a farm bill done this year. Why is the timing important? From my perspective … it’s for the farmer and rancher who is trying to make decisions and still don’t know precisely what the programs will be, doesn’t know what to tell his banker what the programs will be, doesn’t know whether to expand or buy an additional piece of equipment.”

There’s no question, said Vilsack, that farmers, “have taken a ‘wait and see’ attitude to (make) decisions that could help not just their own operation but spur the economy in general. … Nearly 5 percent of the (nation’s Gross Domestic Product) is tied in some way, shape or form to what happens on the farm.”

Mining the same vein, earlier in the day the Obama administration released a White House Rural Council report touting the importance of U.S. agriculture to the nation’s economic health. The timing of the release was surely aimed at pushing farm bill conferees to reach a deal quickly.

“This report lays out the significant priority that the president places on the passage of a (new farm) bill,” said Vilsack. “It makes a compelling case why it’s important and necessary for the nation, as a whole, that Congress act as quickly as possible to complete its work on a comprehensive food, farm and jobs bill.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • After adjusting for inflation, net farm income – at $120 billion for 2013 – now stands at its second-highest level since 1973.
  • Farm asset values are expected to rise 7.1 percent in 2013, as farmland values are expected to continue rising; farm equity is expected to increase by 7.6 percent in 2013.
  • In the 2013 fiscal year, exports reached over $140 billion -- exceeding the previous high of $137 in FY2011, and setting a new record.
  • The average volume of bulk commodities exported increased by nearly four million tons per year over the past five years.
  • U.S. farm exports have supported about 1 million American jobs.

Read the full report here.