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First USDA Agribusiness Trade Mission to Iraq Arrives in Baghdad

By Dan Berman, Senior Advisor to the Administrator, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service

What comes to your mind when you think of Iraq? Like many, my perceptions were created by years of media reporting. On Saturday, I arrived in Baghdad in a Blackhawk helicopter, and am still processing my feelings of heartbreak and inspiration. Yesterday I was honored to open the first U.S. agribusiness trade mission to Iraq in more than 20 years. At the opening plenary session, nearly 20 U.S. companies and more than 150 Iraqi entrepreneurs and buyers were present, as well as U.S. and Iraqi government officials.  The U.S. companies on the mission are both large and small, representing commodity, consumer-ready food, and forest product industries, as well as agricultural input suppliers, including agricultural equipment and irrigation system manufacturers.

The purpose of this trade mission is simple: to increase U.S. agricultural exports to Iraq, promote joint ventures, and boost investment in Iraq’s developing agricultural sector. Over two days, U.S. and Iraqi producers, processors, buyers, traders, and investors will meet face-to-face in dozens of one-on-one meetings. In these meetings business will be conducted, ideas will be exchanged, and friendships will be forged. The courage and optimism of all the participants cannot be overstated. We hope this mission will be looked back on as a turning point in our relationship. As Ambassador Christopher Hill said in the opening address, we hope we will move from America being represented by General Petraeus and General Odierno, to General Foods and General Mills.

Agriculture is an important part of Iraq’s economy.  It is the country’s second largest economic sector, accounting for 9.6 percent of its gross domestic product and employing about 20 percent of its labor force. The country’s farmers produce wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates, cotton, livestock, and poultry.  But, with Iraq’s population expected to nearly double in the next 25 years, agricultural imports, including those produced by Iraqi farmers plus edible oils, pulses, and a variety of consumer-ready products, are needed to feed the country’s growing urban middle class and low-income consumers.  In addition, Iraq has vast natural resources and great potential to further boost agricultural productivity and output of a broad array of farm products. What it needs are agricultural inputs, such as seeds, feed, and machinery to put this potential to work. With greater access to inputs, Iraq’s agricultural sector can develop more quickly. The U.S. companies on this mission can meet these varied needs.

USDA’s strategy also reflects the Strategic Framework Agreement that the United States and Iraq signed in December 2008. That agreement outlines the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship and recognizes that building a prosperous and diversified economy in Iraq will be key to its stability and integration into the world economy.

I am someone who has worked for over 30 years to promote America’s agricultural exports all over the world. Nothing prepared me for what I have seen here and the spirit and resilience and spirit of the USDA and entire U.S. Government and military team working here in Iraq to give the people here a better chance to live the way anyone would want to, in security and freedom.

USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman discussed the benefits of expanded agriculture trade with Iraqi TV at the June 8 kickoff for the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission in Baghdad.
USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman discussed the benefits of expanded agriculture trade with Iraqi TV at the June 8 kickoff for the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission in Baghdad.

Ambassador Christopher R. Hill opened the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission for an audience of more than 175 U.S. and Iraqi farmers, business people and officials.  Minister of Trade Dr. Safaeddin Mohamed Safi, Senior Deputy Minister of Agriculture Dr. Subhi Al-Jumailly and USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman also offered remarks at the opening ceremony.
Ambassador Christopher R. Hill opened the U.S.-Iraq Agriculture Trade Mission for an audience of more than 175 U.S. and Iraqi farmers, business people and officials.  Minister of Trade Dr. Safaeddin Mohamed Safi, Senior Deputy Minister of Agriculture Dr. Subhi Al-Jumailly and USDA Head of Delegation Dan Berman also offered remarks at the opening ceremony.

Madison Telephone LLC to Provide USDA-Funded Broadband Service to 200 Square Miles in Southeast Kansas Thanks to the Recovery Act

Mary Meyer, who began working for the Madison Telephone LLC in Kansas for the first generation owners, is now working with the third generation to prepare them to take over the company upon her retirement…when this USDA funded Broadband project is complete. Read more »

What Kind of Bee Is That?

Written collaboratively by: The People’s Garden Team

Today, Sam Droege with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) led a workshop on The Native Bees in Your Garden at The People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters. Did you know there are about 4,000 species of bees in North America and that one eighth of them have not even been named yet?

Despite their importance, there has been little research on native bees. Much of what we know comes from before the 1930’s when collecting and studying insects was popular. Since there has been little research, we do not know if there have been wide spread declines in native bees like there have been with the non-native honeybees. Sam and other scientists and taxonomists are working together to create online identification guides for the bees of North America. You can find out more about this collaborative project at National Biological Information Infrastructure.

Did you know that most of the native bees do not sting?  Only the few “colonial” bees (bees that form colonies) will sting and only if trapped or if their hive is attacked.  Most “bee” stings are in fact from wasps, like yellow jackets, not bees.  Sam noted that in general bees are vegetarians while wasps are meat eaters.  While bees are attracted to and pollinate flowers, wasps generally do not. Honeybees are important for agriculture since native bees are frequently not available around industrial farms.  The reason is that industrial farmland is devoid of the natural habitat native bees need.  Instead, beekeepers bring in beehives to provide pollination services. Another problem is that the pesticides used to eliminate insect pests in agricultural land also kill bees and other beneficial insects.  Because of the lack of research, we do not know the impact of pesticides on native bees or the honeybees. The presentation ended with a tour of the garden and Sam showing the attendees all the many bees peacefully pollinating the garden.

Throughout the month of June, The People’s Garden is celebrating pollinators in honor of National Pollinator Week, June 21-27 with workshops and exhibits. Come join us next Friday (June 11) from 12 noon to 1 p.m. for the workshop Pests and Their Natural Enemies.

Sam showing different species of bees.

Sam showing different species of bees.

North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation Breaks Ground on a Recovery Act Project to Bring Broadband to Rural Residents

An excited crowd gathered in New Town, North Dakota, last week for the groundbreaking of a major broadband infrastructure project.  Reservation Telephone Cooperative (RTC) received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) to provide broadband service to rural residents of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the surrounding area. Read more »

Demand Rising for Agricultural College Graduates

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

By Greg Smith, National Program Leader, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

In what is sure to be good news for college students worried about finding a job after graduation in today’s economic climate, employment opportunities for U.S. college graduates with expertise in the food, agricultural, and natural resources and related science sectors are expected to remain strong during the next five years. This news comes from the recently released report, Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the U.S. Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources System, the seventh 5-year employment opportunities projections study initiated by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

My colleagues and I at NIFA worked with Purdue University to produce this report, which covers the years 2010 through 2015.  We are expecting to see a greater need for professionals in agriculture and food systems, renewable energy and the environment as there will be an estimated 54,000 job openings annually. In fact, compared to 2005-2010, the workforce will demand 5 percent more graduates in 2010-2015. More than enough graduates will likely be available during the next couple of years in some occupations, but we foresee a shortfall of new graduates with preparation in priority business and science specialties in the latter half of the period.

Four major factors will shape the market for graduates in the next five years: macroeconomic conditions and retirements; consumer preferences for nutritious and safe foods; food, energy and environment public policy choices; and global market shifts in population, income, food and energy.

In the report, we identified the strengths graduates will need to compete for jobs in the areas of management and business; science and engineering; agricultural and forestry production; and education, communication and government services. The strongest demand is anticipated for graduates with college degrees and related work experience in business and management.

The projected growth in these occupations will be welcomed as the United States addresses the growing challenges related to food safety and security, climate change, and sustainable energy. We will need the talents, skills and knowledge of these professionals to help us solve these pressing issues and secure our future.

College graduates, such as these Rutgers University soil science students, can expect to see an increase in the number of job opportunities available in the next five years.
College graduates, such as these Rutgers University soil science students, can expect to see an increase in the number of job opportunities available in the next five years.

The National Summit of Rural America: A Dialogue of Renewing Promise

Cross-posted from the White House Blog

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

As the Obama Administration National Rural Summit came to a close yesterday, there was a general feeling of hope for the future of America’s rural communities. But there was also a sense that a host of partners – federal, state, and local governments, non-profit and for-profit entities, and most of all the good people who live in rural America – must work together to bring about the change our rural communities so deserve.

One of our panelists, Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, acknowledged that although the day’s conversation had covered a breadth of important topics, challenges still lay ahead for rural America. The wide range of issues that will be involved in driving the economic revitalization of rural America span not only several government departments and agencies, but also hit home in every community across the country. With only a limited time to discuss the topics concerning rural communities at the summit, I encourage the public to keep the conversation going to ensure a successful future for the rural economy. That can be done as simply as talking with a neighbor, or by offering your ideas to the White House by visiting the Open Government Initiative.

One underlying theme of our conversations yesterday was the importance of educating the public about rural America in order to get our rural communities the attention and support they need to thrive. Over the last year, Deputy Secretary Merrigan and I have visited almost all 50 states, in an attempt to focus attention on the pursuit of the American dream within rural communities, and to illustrate how far around the country the reaches of rural America go. But this can only go so far. The conversation needs to extend into all of our communities, so folks understand that the strength of this nation relies on the strength of our rural communities.

Rural America plays an important role in our nation’s value system, which can be seen from family to family across countryside communities. Almost all of our founding fathers had rural upbringings, and a rural mindset imbued our foundational documents. In his remarks, Dr. Cummiskey, President of Jefferson College where the Summit was held, recalled a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “…there seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war,.. the second by commerce… and the third by agriculture, the only honest way.

There is still truth in Benjamin Franklin’s words. Small towns across this nation are filled with fundamentally good people who are raising their families and instilling a strong set of values in their children. They are generous and compassionate people, hard working, playing by the rules. They are everything we try to teach our kids to be.

And so we owe it to these folks to help them chart a better future for their families. I think if our country takes a few minutes – and if we can focus our attention on rural America – then I think our potential is unlimited. I foresee a day in rural America where the entrepreneur can prosper, where more and more of our energy is being produced on our farms. I foresee a day with prosperous main streets in small towns across the nation. I see a day when parents can turn to their sons and daughters and tell them they don’t have to travel far from home to experience the American dream – but that they can live it right here in rural America.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the opening session of the National Rural Summit held at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO. June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at the opening session of the National Rural Summit held at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, MO. June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)

A Dialogue on Rural America was the first discussion panel held at the National Rural Summit. (Panelists L to R Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President Aneesh Chopra, President of Show Me Energy Steve Flick, President of National Corn Growers Association Darrin Ihnen, Past President of National Association of Conservation Districts John Redding, Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi James Young, Agriculture Broadcaster at WGN radio Max Armstrong, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack). June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)
A Dialogue on Rural America was the first discussion panel held at the National Rural Summit. (Panelists L to R Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President Aneesh Chopra, President of Show Me Energy Steve Flick, President of National Corn Growers Association Darrin Ihnen, Past President of National Association of Conservation Districts John Redding, Mayor of Philadelphia, Mississippi James Young, Agriculture Broadcaster at WGN radio Max Armstrong, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack). June 3, 2010. (by Alice Welch)