* Many farmers need ‘quality’ jobs in town, says Vilsack
* Vilsack lauds broadband, biofuels and biotech
* Farm Bureau-Don’t pit farm support vs rural development
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - Broadband, biotech and biofuels can be as important to economic development in rural America as traditional farm supports, said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday.
Vilsack called for a broad approach to farm policy during remarks to the North American Agricultural Journalists. “It has to include quality jobs as well,” he said, noting that many growers need off-farm income to make ends meet.
The so-called farm bills written every few years by Congress cover nutrition, rural development, land stewardship, agricultural research and export programs as well as crop subsidies. Hearings have begun on the 2012 farm bill.
Larger farm exports and higher spending on farm supports have not prevented a dwindling in farm numbers, said Vilsack.
He said broadband Internet service, biofuels and biotechnology could create jobs in small towns and spur economic growth.
The head of the largest U.S. farm group said the future of farm policy should not be “an either-or conversation” that pits funding for rural development against crop supports.
“We have to have the whole conversation,” said Bob Stallman of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation to reporters afterward.
The Obama administration has proposed a reduction in payments to the largest farmers. Stallman said full-time growers rely on the farm safety net and their needs should be part of the debate.
About 400,000 of the 2.2 million U.S. farms account for the lion’s share of crop and livestock production. Many farms are too small to provide a family’s income by themselves.
Rural America, home to 20 percent of the U.S. population, has higher poverty and jobless rates and lower average income levels than urban areas. (Reporting by Charles Abbott; Editing by David Gregorio)