[imgcontainer] [img:50ef0ac7ad906.preview-620.jpeg] [source]Bill Lambrecht/St. Louis Post Dispatch[/source] More than 200 farmers and seed producers gathered outside the White House late last week to protest Monsanto and genetically modified seeds. [/imgcontainer]

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he’s in for the second term. 

Vilsack had been a “maybe” for a second term cabinet post. But late Monday afternoon, the USDA issued a very short statement saying that Vilsack “will continue his service in the Obama Administration.”

Vilsack released this statement:

“President Obama and I share a deep appreciation for rural America and its unlimited potential in the years ahead to feed a growing world population, revolutionize America’s energy, further protect our natural resources and create more jobs here at home. We will continue to urge Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will help us continue USDA’s wide range of efforts to support this work. As we look ahead to a promising future in our small towns and rural communities, I am pleased to continue working alongside President Obama to grow more opportunity in rural America.”

Vicco on Rights — Vicco, Kentucky, population 334, adopted an ordinance Monday that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the Courier-Journal reports

The city council voted 3-1 to adopt the ordinance, making it only the fourth city in the state to do so. (The others are Lexington, Louisville and Covington — all metro areas.)

Vicco is an old coal camp in Eastern Kentucky. It was named by (and after) the Virginia  Iron Coal and Coke Co., the company that built the town.

“It’s a great victory and we’re definitely excited,” said Chris Hartman of the Fairness Coalition, a consortium of groups seeking to expand such laws beyond Kentucky’s more liberal urban cities into its more conservative heartland.

What Matters — The headline in USA Today asks, “As more move to the city, does rural America still matter?” 

Christopher Doering is following Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s warning in early December that rural America was losing its political punch. And that was why the Farm Bill had not passed.

“I’d have a hard time really arguing with” Vilsack’s warning to rural America, said Michael McCurry, South Dakota’s state demographer who also teaches at the state university in Brookings. “Our rural people are not that significant. We don’t have the votes. We don’t have the voice, and, by golly, I just don’t see it changing. Barring some massive plague or environmental disaster, we’re going to continue becoming more urban.”

Doering reports:

In Washington, some lawmakers have an equally difficult task convincing others in Congress that rural America still matters. In order to boost their presence, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said those representing rural America need to form coalitions to underscore the impact these forgotten areas have on the nation’s well-being.

“That is a challenge in this country, where food is abundant and, for most people, affordable and taken for granted,” Harkin said.

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor, said representatives and senators overseeing large rural areas need to press upon urban and suburban lawmakers that “their fates are tied to rural America.” Sabato pointed to the recently averted crisis facing the dairy industry as an example.

A deal reached as part of the “fiscal cliff” talks in Washington earlier this month prevented dairy subsidies from reverting to 1949 levels, a move that could have caused milk prices to double to about $7 a gallon across the country. The lawmakers need “to make the connection with their colleagues, to make the argument with their colleagues: here’s how what’s happening in my district affects yours,” Sabato said, noting it would take significant time for the push to have a meaningful impact in Congress.

California Ag Land — It’s not just Midwest farmland that investors are buying. The AP reports that record demand for fruits, nuts and vegetables has spurred the market for California farmland. 

A sale of 1,200 acres went for $15,000 an acre. The new owner will grow almonds.

Rural Schools and Shootings — Rural schools in Montana have a special issue when it comes to thinking about the safety of students. If there is trouble at an isolated school, it’s likely that armed parents will arrive before police. 

“Within a minute or two you’d have daughters and sons texting their dads,” Thompson Falls, Montana, schools superintendent Jerry Pauli told the Missoulian. “Many people, especially in Montana, have access to weapons, so now you have the possibility of people coming onto a campus that’s not secured to rescue their children – that’s one more thing you have to think about.”

Farm Bill’s Back Burner — Christopher Doering reports that, yes, the old Farm Bill was extended for nine months, but that there is still little movement to settle the issue. He reports: 

The bare-bones extension keeps many of the existing farm programs in place, including direct payments and crop insurance. But Congress must now work on crafting a new five-year $500 billion farm bill, a task complicated by growing calls in Washington to reduce spending. In the next few months, Congress will have to address increasing the country’s debt ceiling along with the looming sequestration, the name given to the series of automatic spending cuts that would take place on March 1 unless Washington acts.

“They’re going to have to deal with the debt ceiling and sequestration and the farm bill is going to get put on the back burner until September again,” said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau who farms with several family members in Volga, west of Brookings. “I would not be optimistic that they’ll take care of the farm bill before late summer or early fall.”

Monsanto Protest — Farmers have called on the Obama administration to help them fight Monsanto in a dispute over genetically engineered crops. 

About 200 farmers and representatives of organic seed companies gathered in the park across from the White House late last week to demand labeling of foods using GM crops. This comes after a proposition in California requiring such labeling was defeated at the polls.

“We want and demand the right of clean seed not contaminated by a massive biotech company that’s in it for the profit,” Carol Koury, who operates Sow True Seeds in Asheville, N.C., said at the rally.

The U.S. Court of Appeals is hearing an appeal of a case questioning the legality of Monsanto’s seed patents and asking the courts to protect farmers from retaliation from Monsanto if their fields are found to have GM seed owned by the company. A U.S. District Court judge had dismissed the case nearly a year ago.

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