This week, I am taking 21 representatives of foreign embassies in our nation’s capital to Washington state and Oregon for the Foreign Agricultural Service’s 26th annual orientation tour. These representatives are from Angola, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Fiji, France, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, and Switzerland. Their expertise ranges from agricultural to environmental affairs and economic to commercial affairs.
Why does FAS conduct these tours? Because they strengthen relations between the United States and its trade partners; they showcase the diversity of U.S. food and agricultural products; and they help open and expand export opportunities for U.S. producers and enhance global food security.
Dr. John Dardis, First Secretary for Agriculture and Food at the Embassy of Ireland in Washington, DC, is participating in this orientation tour for the first time. He said, “This trip caught my eye because it has a strong marine and fisheries slant. As an island nation, Ireland is very dependent on that industry. This tour will give me a different perspective and possibly provide some trade opportunities as well. Additional benefits include seeing America on the ground, speaking to people who are directly affected by policies enacted in the U.S. capital, and getting to know my colleagues from other countries better. I’m really looking forward to this trip.”
Washington state and Oregon exemplify a broad array of our country’s agricultural diversity. Each state has nearly 40,000 farms. Washington state is the No. 1 apple-growing state in the country, while Oregon is the No. 1 cut Christmas tree-growing state. In addition, Washington state is ranked third in vegetables harvested for sale and fourth in barley for grain, while Oregon is also No. 1 in field and grass seed crops and No. 9 in vegetables harvested for sale.
Yesterday, we traveled to Washington state’s Skagit Valley—home to one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range—where we visited a family-owned strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, apple, and tea business; a potato grower, marketer, and shipper; and an oyster, clam, mussel, and geoduck (a large, saltwater clam) marketer. Today and tomorrow, we will see how Alaskan and Pacific Northwest seafood is harvested, processed, and marketed and sample apples and pears grown at a cooperative, as well as cherries and blueberries at a family-owned company.
When we arrive in Oregon, we will visit a modern pear-packing facility, a non-profit organization that supports organic food and farming, a wholesale nursery operation, a dairy farm cooperative producing cheese products, and a grain exporter that samples, grades, and loads commodities on ocean-going vessels. We will also learn about the important role U.S. land-grant universities play in research, product development, testing, and marketing and visit a trade association that provides a bridge between U.S. wheat farmers and consumers worldwide.
USDA recently forecast fiscal year 2011 and 2012 exports will reach a record $137 billion, $22 billion higher than the previous record set in 2008 and $28 billion above 2010. Strong agricultural exports contribute to the positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, boost economic growth and support President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling all U.S. exports by the end of 2014.
For more information about FAS, go to www.fas.usda.gov