In 2010, Vilsack told attendees, 144,000 producers made use of SURE and the other disaster programs.

“When you look at American agriculture and you understand who farms and who makes money in American agriculture, you understand why we need a safety net. By some definitions, we have 2.2 million farmers in this country today, but that means that we have 2.2 million people who sell more than $1,000 of agricultural products. That's not a very high standard.”

About half of the 2.2 million “sell very, very little -- less than $10,000. They may have an orchard. They may have a small garden. … They are not necessarily making much money in their farming operation. They no doubt have off-farm income or are retired and are operating this small operation.”

Another 600,000 American farmers and ranchers have less than $250,000 in sales. At that amount, “their ability to make a living is compromised unless they have off-farm income, and the vast majority of those producers, indeed, work off the farm,” said Vilsack, advocating for the continuation of a “safety net.”

The latest number-crunching shows “those farmers will average about $10,000 from their farming operation net. So it's obvious that we need to be addressing that group of farmers with a farm bill that addresses and recognizes the important role they play in helping to populate and support rural communities. It's not easy for them. That's why you need safety nets. It's also why you need rural development programs.”

The last group of farmers -- some 300,000 in number --make up a small percenatge of total growers and yet “produce roughly 85 percent of what we consume and what we export. They'll do quite well, but they also will have significant capital investment.

“That's the reason why it was important to pass tax legislation in this last session of Congress, not only to reduce payroll taxes for a year but more importantly to allow business expensing at 100 percent this year, so that folks could feel free to go out and purchase that implement that they have been wanting to purchase for sometime but have been concerned about their ability to afford it.”

That's also why it was important to have estate tax relief “that assured … you're not going to have to worry about whether or not the farm is going to have to be sold or split up. It's important.”