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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. Read more »

Tracing a Path Out of a Costly Trade Dispute

The trade dispute was resolved after AMS helped the businesses produce paper work and take the South Korean officials on tours of orange juice processing plants. USDA Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.

The trade dispute was resolved after AMS helped the businesses produce paper work and take the South Korean officials on tours of orange juice processing plants. USDA Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.

When we shop for items like orange juice at the grocery store, we often take for granted what goes on behind the scenes before we can enjoy these quality foods. Our nation’s producers and processors do not take it for granted. These products represent their livelihood, and the ability to reach new customers—especially through the export market—is critical to their businesses’ success. Recently, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) helped four businesses from Florida avert a costly 54% tariff, enabling them to continue to export frozen concentrated orange juice duty free to South Korea.

The US – Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) exempts U.S. orange juice from a 54% tariff when exported to Korea. However, in March 2013 Korean officials questioned the domestic origin of orange juice exported from the Sunshine State to the East Asian country. Without proof that the juice came from the U.S., exporters faced the costly tariff and the volume of exports to South Korea decreased. It was a huge loss for the Florida citrus industry which creates 76,000 jobs and pumps $9 billion into its local economy. Read more »

Opening New Markets, Expanding Menu Choices

The National Potato Board’s efforts to increase economic growth and market viability for American potato farmers have had an impact on the industry. In 2013, U.S. potato exports were a record $1.6 billion.

The National Potato Board’s efforts to increase economic growth and market viability for American potato farmers have had an impact on the industry. In 2013, U.S. potato exports were a record $1.6 billion.

America’s ag promotion groups work to educate consumers, as well as research and promote our nation’s agricultural products. Whether potatoes or pork, mangos or cotton, soybeans or almonds, ag promotion groups help consumers make informed choices and learn about new products.

Although all ag promotion groups do have a similar goal and purpose – to pool their resources to increase demand and long-term economic growth for their  industries – they all accomplish this in different ways, tailoring their efforts to apply strategies that work best for each commodity. Read more »

SNAP Achieves Record High Payment Accuracy Rate for Seventh Year in a Row

Each year, as required by the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, USDA issues the payment accuracy rate for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) nationally and state by state.

I’m happy to announce that the fiscal year (FY) 2013 SNAP payment accuracy rate is an impressive 96.8 percent.  This is an all-time high, and is the seventh year in a row with record-breaking accuracy rates.   Payment accuracy means providing the correct amount of SNAP benefits to eligible households. The aim is to make sure that no one gets too little or too much in benefits, but gets exactly the amount they are intended to receive under the law.  This historically high rate indicates that states are continuing to reduce improper payments in SNAP and are making sure that eligible citizens get the right amount of benefits. Read more »

The Spirit of Rural America: Farmers Show Strength in Tough Times

Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service Michael Scuse (left) and Cass County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committeeman and farmer Trent Smith discuss the impact of the drought on Missouri’s soybean crop.

Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service Michael Scuse (left) and Cass County Farm Service Agency (FSA) committeeman and farmer Trent Smith discuss the impact of the drought on Missouri’s soybean crop.

This is the final post of the weekly disaster assistance program feature series on the USDA blog.

For the past few weeks we’ve shared stories of how the farmers and ranchers across the country have been helped by disaster assistance programs restored by the 2014 Farm Bill. These USDA programs are helping thousands of producers and their families recover from natural disasters.

These amazing stories of strength and courage show the resilience of the men and women who feed and clothe more than 313 million Americans and billions of people worldwide. Despite uncontrollable setbacks caused by drought, snowstorms, tornadoes and other natural disasters, American farmers, ranchers and their children persevered beyond measure. I’m honored to be part of an agency that works for and with such amazing people. Read more »

NRCS Ag Adviser Recognized for Outstanding Service in Afghanistan

District Governor of Bakwa, Hodgi Labujohn, listens as Darren Richardson explains the new 40-50 meter deep water wells that were going to be contracted by residence of Bakwa.

District Governor of Bakwa, Hodgi Labujohn, listens as Darren Richardson explains the new 40-50 meter deep water wells that were going to be contracted by residence of Bakwa.

An assistant state conservationist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently received a top honor for his service overseas in Afghanistan, where he served as an agricultural adviser for two different tours.

Darren Richardson, who works for NRCS in Lubbock County, Texas, was among 72 people recognized by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in late May. Richardson received the Tom Stefani Distinguished International Service Award for brave accomplishments in the face of danger.

Richardson served as a senior adviser to the U.S. Consulate in Herat, Afghanistan. Richardson served two tours, from 2009 to 2010 as a technical advisor for the military unit, and in 2013 as a senior agricultural advisor in western Afghanistan, supervising USDA field advisers in the western region. Read more »