DES MOINES - Wednesday's rural issues forum at the Iowa State Fair featuring U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack lacked some of the fireworks that have accompanied health-care forums around the nation.

This forum was more polite, with the former Iowa governor telling about the Obama administration's policies and farmers asking questions about specific programs, such as a recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it would give borrowers more leeway to restructure loans.

Of course, some hot-button issues were raised.

When former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture candidate Denise O'Brien asked about health insurance reform, Vilsack told the crowd that while there is room for debate over the structure of reform "the status quo is not acceptable."

That status quo, he said includes a situation where 23 percent of residents of rural communities with populations of under 2,500 people are uninsured. And he said rates are higher and access worse in rural areas.

And when another farmer expressed concern about how cap-and-trade climate change legislation could lead to dramatically higher electricity costs, Vilsack said that if America does not show leadership on this issue, it will have a much more difficult time dealing with other issues around the world.

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"There is an expectation of American leadership on this issue," he said. He also added that the long-term financial benefits for farmers should far outweigh the costs.

That was one area where not everyone agreed with the secretary. Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang said afterward that while he was impressed with Vilsack's knowledge of the facts and of his grasp of the issues facing livestock producers, the cap and trade item is a problem.