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First Person: Nellie Hill’s farm visit with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack

First Person: Nellie Hill’s farm visit with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack

On Friday, June 14, I stood surrounded by 7,200 sprawling acres of Harmon family land, passed down four generations from father to son since the 1920s. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stood in the middle of a ring of observers: friends of the Harmon and Kitten families, federal officials, commodity organization personnel and one student, listening intently as Scott, Amanda, and Guy Harmon and fellow Lubbock County farmer Craig Kitten shared the story and struggles of their family farming and ranching operations.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the site visit with Secretary Vilsack. The arrangements for the visit started far before he arrived in Lubbock on a hot, June day. Area USDA agencies, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), selected the Harmon and Kitten farming operations to showcase to the Secretary because of their commitment to conservation and diverse, generational farming operations.

The Harmon’s have been a cooperating partner with the NRCS through the Lubbock County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for 12 years, working together to integrate conservation planning and programs into their operation when possible. Kitten has been a cooperator partnering with NRCS and the SWCD for 20 years.

“Both the Harmons and Mr. Kitten have a real connection to the land and connection to conservation in working through USDA to put in conservation practices, specifically for irrigation water management,” said Craig Derickson, acting NRCS state conservationist.

Secretary Vilsack inquired about a variety of topics with the Harmons and Kitten during his visit. He wanted to know about the history of each family’s farm, how the drought was affecting their operation, and discussed tools for helping farmers mitigate risk and loss during these challenging times. Certainly, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act was a hot topic throughout the day.

I was able to ask Secretary Vilsack about encouraging more students from a variety of backgrounds to enroll in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University. He believes in preserving agricultural education at the secondary level. “We need to expose students to agriculture at a young age. Peek their intrigue with technology, science, mechanics or risk management,” said Vilsack.

The mood throughout the day was that of perseverance and confidence in agriculture. Secretary Vilsack challenged young people to accept the moral issues of our time and push forward, through agriculture, to feed the world and address climate change. Agriculture is clearly here to stay in many aspects of our lives. As the visit ended and we looked up to the clouds, hoping for a few drops of rain, Harmon said, “If you took agriculture out of the Plains, I don’t know what we would do here.”

Written by Nellie Hill

CONTACT: Steven Fraze, Chair, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2816 or



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