On an eye-opening tour of Europe’s farm country…

“A few years ago, during the Bush administration when Tom Dorr was USDA undersecretary for rural development, we organized a trip to the EU. We brought either the elected president or the CEO of all the major ag organizations in the country, Dorr and several rural development directors. We did an entire study/tour week in Europe with that group – from northern Scotland to the south of France.

“The reason for the tour was to get guys out of buildings and onto farms in five or six European countries to see where they were with regards to rural entrepreneurship connection to agricultural policy. The point was not to adopt a European model but to suggest that in Europe, more and more, rural development and agricultural commodity producers are aligning to say ‘we’re in a very urban-centric policy arena and must work closely together. The same guys that farm are the same guys that need good healthcare, good roads, good entrepreneur financing programs, good education for the kids.’

“At the end of the trip in France, a state Farm Bureau president got up and spoke. He said ‘the reality is I’ve learned more on this trip than, probably, any other trip I’ve been on. Here’s what bothers me: every rural town in Europe than we’ve seen looks better than my (Midwest) hometown. We may not want to adopt European policies, but we have to figure out how U.S. ag and rural development can be more closely aligned.’

“Unfortunately, in the United States, we’re not quite as smart in thinking about how rural innovation relates to the future of agriculture. And since that trip, as every producer knows in everything from regional food to energy, we’re going to see agriculture increasingly being a tremendously viable development engine beyond agriculture itself.”

On the pace of policy development…

“As I said in my testimony, I honestly believe the people are way out in front of the policy development process. But it is coming around.

“Of course, to be honest, there is no money for the agriculture committees. They’re going to have to work smarter, going to have rethink things. We have far too many programs that don’t have goals – they’re just out there with an important constituency. But we can no longer afford them all and must think about how to align and integrate smarter.

“To do that will require: regional innovations, value chains, asset-based development strategies in multi-county regions in rural America and, clearly, entrepreneurship development.”