FAS administrator talks world ag export situation

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U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Phil Karsting recently visited the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

He met with Texas A&M AgriLife administrators, personnel from the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and a group of students.

Phil Karsting, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator. Karsting came to College Station after his trip to Austin, Texas, to speak at the Texas Global Business Summit, where he was on a panel discussing the possible benefits of a new Trans-Pacific Partnership. The partnership is a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Karsting, whose responsibility includes oversight of personnel in the U.S. and more than 90 overseas offices covering 169 countries, stressed the importance of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership relative to U.S. agricultural exports.

“As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address, we’ve just had the five strongest years of agricultural exports in our history,” Karsting said.

He said Texas is one of the nation’s top agricultural exporters, ranking fourth behind California, Iowa and Illinois, and that the state’s agricultural producers would benefit from agreements like a new  initiative.

“In 2012, Texas exported $4.3 billion in agricultural products, including $2.4 billion in cotton and cottonseed, $961 million in beef, $472 million in hides and skins, and $265 million in planting seeds,” he said. “In addition, Texas vies with Georgia as the top pecan-producing state. And the $65.9 million in Texas tree nut exports in 2012 increased even more last year.”

Karsting also touted Texas’ production and exportation of poultry and eggs, wool, peanuts and wheat.

“A primary mission of FAS is to enhance exports and, by extension, enhance the U.S. economy by helping U.S. farmers and ranchers export their products,” he said. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership will provide such an opportunity to U.S. agricultural producers, including Texas producers.”

He added that every $1 billion worth of agricultural exports supports nearly 7,000 jobs in the U.S. and generates an additional $1.29 billion in domestic economic activity.

“So with U.S. agricultural exports forecast at a record $142.6 billion in fiscal year 2014, that generates nearly $184 billion in economic activity for our country,” he said.

While meeting with administrators, project managers and training coordinators at the Borlaug Institute, Karsting spoke of the importance of helping build agricultural capacity in developing countries.

 “The more we help raise others out of poverty, the better for ourselves,” he noted. “Through the application of science and technology, we can help show others how to improve their food security. This will also help improve the political and social stability of those countries. It’s in our own enlightened self-interest to help developing countries improve their agricultural production.”

click image to zoomTexas A&M UniversityPhil Karsting, foreground, met with personnel from the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. During discussions with Borlaug Institute personnel, Karsting also emphasized the role of science in addressing world hunger through the farmer. Dr. Norman Borlaug, for whom the Borlaug Institute is named, was the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and “father of the Green Revolution” who developed a special dwarf wheat that helped save more than a billion lives worldwide.

“We have to make advancements in agricultural science and technology available to others as a means to help link U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and improve global food security,” he said. “That’s why we established the Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program in 2004.”

The program provides training and collaborative research opportunities to scientists and researchers from developing and middle-income countries. Since it began, 700 program fellows from 64 countries have participated in research and training focused on a wide array of agricultural issues.

Some of the subjects and topics addressed through the program include agronomy, veterinary science, nutrition, food safety, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, natural resource management, agricultural biotechnology, global climate change, and agricultural economics and policy.

Toward the end of Karsting’s visit, he made a presentation to about 30 minority and other students from Texas A&M on internship and scholarship programs available through the Foreign Agricultural Service.

“We have a network of economists, marketing and trade experts and others overseas,” he said. “As a leader in agricultural research, biotechnology, marketing, food safety and biodiversity conservation, we are engaged in a wide range of international activities.”

He told the students the Foreign Agricultural Service is always looking for “people with a variety of world and life experiences,” and that “diversity is key to what we do at the FAS, so we strive to develop a workforce that looks like America.”

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