In the two years that President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have been in office, those involved in production agriculture have participated in driving a sustained economic recovery. That’s the message I delivered earlier this week to farmers, extension staff, local business leaders and government officials during a speech at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. I was honored to be asked to address those in attendance at the 20th annual Small Farmers Conference at Alcorn State. The theme is “Sowing the Seeds of Opportunity for a Bountiful Harvest.”
By actively implementing the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill and by investing in rural America through the Recovery Act, this administration has spread the seeds of economic growth and the harvest is coming in. Thanks to USDA support, and the hard work of America’s farmers and ranchers, net cash farm income is on the rise and farm family incomes are up. During my speech, I highlighted provisions included in the Farm Bill that benefit small and limited resource farmers (NRCS conservation programs – EQIP cost share adjustments, creation of OAO), and I announced Secretary’s appointment of the minority farmer advisory committee which includes as a member Ben Burkett, President of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives.
During my remarks, I sought to start conversation about the next farm bill and the future of agriculture. The greatest challenges ahead, specifically for the Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service mission area are “father time” and “mother nature”. I discussed the average age of farmers, 57, and the fact that fewer young people going in to agriculture. Our land grant colleges can help reverse this trend. (Alcorn State is positioned to be a major player in helping us in this area). I also noted that nature’s actions cannot be predicted, and because of this unpredictability USDA’s farm safety net needs to have the nimble ability to provide, balance, and deliver adequate programs to our clients while meeting our current budget challenges. But the future of our safety net program is definitely a focal point of ongoing conversation for the next farm bill.
I stressed the need for small producers to be engaged and discussed the importance of working with groups like the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives to communicate needs to Congress and USDA, and the benefit of having individuals like Ben Burkett on the minority farmer advisory committee.
I ended my remarks by mentioning a few positive areas in production agriculture, noting that this Administration, through agriculture, is supporting the nation’s economic recovery. Agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in America. While many sectors of our economy are running trade deficits, American agriculture is not one of them. In fact, this year the surplus is expected to exceed $30 billion dollars.
This ag surplus is as a result of our incredible export efforts. The U.S. farm exports in fiscal year 2011 are forecast to set a record high of $135.5 billion. This projection exceeds fiscal year 2008, formerly the highest level on record at $114.9 billion, by $20.6 billion. In terms of job creation, this is a economic plus since $1B in agricultural trade helps support approximately 8400 people working in jobs associated with agriculture and trade.
Working closely with America’s farmers and ranchers, including those here this week at Alcorn State, we will continue to grow agricultural trade, supporting creation of new jobs and spark economic recovery. It was a pleasure to meet with so many Mississippi producers, and to demonstrate this administration’s commitment to the farmers and ranchers who produce food and fiber for America and the world.