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Secretary’s Column: Record Trade Supports Strong Rural Economies

Agriculture is one of the brightest spots in our economy, and the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Trade and market access support good-paying jobs and drives economic growth. A strong rural economy is critical to the overall economic health of the United States.

The past five years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling $619 billion over five years. Agricultural exports in fiscal year 2013 alone reached $140.9 billion, the highest level on record, and supported nearly one million jobs here at home.

USDA strives to create new marketing opportunities for our farmers and ranchers so that they can sustain and grow their businesses and, in turn, foster economic growth in our rural communities. Since 2009, we’ve helped approximately 70 U.S. agricultural producer organizations – each representing hundreds or thousands of producers – expand commercial export markets for their goods through the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Programs. The Market Access Program provides trade promotion funding to 3,000 small businesses annually through the State Regional Trade Groups.

Between 2009 and 2013, more than 5,000 U.S. companies and organizations– an average 67 percent of them small- and medium-sized businesses – participated in 150 USDA-endorsed trade shows in about 20 countries annually. The companies made over 72,500 business contacts and displayed nearly 35,300 new products in various markets on all continents. On-site sales totaled more than $927 million and 12-month projected sales reported by exhibitors were estimated at more than $5.7 billion.

An independent study demonstrated that U.S. agricultural exports increased by $6.1 billion as a result of the increased joint investment in foreign market development by government and industry during the 2002-09 timeframe studied. Overall, U.S. agricultural exports have increased $35 for every additional market development dollar expended by government and industry.

USDA will continue to focus its efforts on tapping into new markets for what is grown and made in rural America. Thanks to resources in the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA is able to continue support for trade promotion and market expansion for U.S. agricultural products overseas—programs that return $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested. In addition, the Administration’s Made in Rural America initiative, launched by President Obama at the 2014 Farm Bill signing, will further these efforts by helping rural businesses and leaders access federal resources to help them connect with new customers and markets abroad. Collectively, these efforts will ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers are well positioned to capitalize on emerging export markets and continue to drive economic growth in rural America.

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