Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture

She’s on the campaign trail, but Kathleen Merrigan is not running for election. As the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture she’s visiting college campuses to spread the word about “the window of opportunity that exists now in American agriculture.”

During an open session today in CU Denver’s Lawrence Street Center, Merrigan gave an overview of Ag Department programs particularly the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative launched in 2009. This program highlights the critical connection between farmers and consumers with a goal to support local and regional food systems as they relate to economic opportunity in Rural America.

Merrigan used an audience ‘clicker’ system to ask questions in emphasizing data such as, on average, how much beef is actually processed for human consumption from a 1500 pound animal? The answer = 775 lbs. Another question, how much of a dollar paid by an end-user consumer is returned to the farmer? The answer = 15.8 cents.

Modern agriculture in the U.S. is very ‘capital intensive,’ Merrigan noted. That makes it difficult particularly for mid-sized farmers. “We know there’s a continuing ‘out flow’ from agriculture in the U.S.” Merrigan said. Part of helping to rebuild the industry must be addressing the economic realities of buying land and equipment for agriculture in the U.S.

Another significant agriculture concern is the overall average age (late 50s) of farmers in America. For the dairy industry, Merrigan pointed out, many of these farmers are in their 80s. “We need more tools to draw in new, young farmers in America.”

While a major effort of the Ag Department is support for farm operations. Merrigan also described work toward sustaining U.S. agriculture through education by educating young children about farm-related careers – not limited to field operations.

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