Former Ag secretary to address farmers’ convention

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 7, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

John R. Block, a former U.S. secretary of agriculture, will deliver the keynote address, &uot;Please Don’t Squeeze the Farmer,&uot; at noon Dec. 1 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation 78th Annual Convention in Williamsburg.

&uot;American agriculture is the envy of countries all over the world,&uot; Block said recently. &uot;We’ve got a lot going for us. We just can’t sell it out of the back of a wagon anymore.&uot;

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In his address, Block will focus on where U.S. agriculture has been and where it’s going.

&uot;We’ve seen dramatic changes,&uot; he said. &uot;Technology has been the enabler for a lot of consolidation, making it tough for many farmers to stay in business.&uot;

Block would like farmers to be aware of emerging consumer trends that squeeze the farming industry.

&uot;In many cases, the food that we produce is hardly recognizable at the (retail) end of the food chain,&uot; Block said.

He explained that’s because consumers have such specific expectations for their groceries. In his address, Block will also discuss the issues that are crucially affecting government farm programs including, taxes, environmental regulations, energy policies and international trade.

Serving in the Reagan era, Block played a key role in developing the 1985 Farm Bill, which helped restore farm profitability to agriculture sectors devastated by recession. The national Agriculture in the Classroom program got its start under Block’s leadership, along with the Conservation Reserve Program, which allows farmers to take highly erodible land out of production.

Block is executive vice president for the Food Marketing Institute, a Washington-based trade association, and president of the organization’s wholesale division. He has a syndicated weekly radio commentary and is president of the board for the U.S. Friends of the World Food Programme, a joint initiative of the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Other speakers at the Dec. 1-3 VFBF convention will include Dr. Robert E. Young II, director of economics for the American Farm Bureau Federation; retail analyst Kenneth Gassman; and Dr. Alex White, an assistant professor specializing in personal financial management at Virginia Tech.