Vilsack: Farm bill to carry on America’s record ag trade

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Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen yet another banner year for U.S. agricultural exports. Exports of U.S. farm and ranch products reached a record $140.9 billion in 2013 and supported about a million U.S. jobs. In fact, compared to the previous five-year period from 2004-2008, U.S. agricultural exports from 2009-2013 increased by a total of nearly $230 billion.

All told, the past five years represent the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history for agricultural exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has focused on two key factors in recent years to help make this success possible. First, an unprecedented effort by USDA and our Federal partners to expand and grow markets around the world. Second, a commitment to make sure our farmers and ranchers have the tools to grow more, even in the face of uncertainty.

Thanks to the Farm Bill, particularly the Foreign Market Development Program and Market Access Program, USDA has been able to work with hundreds of U.S. businesses since 2009 to expand trade. We have led more than 150 U.S. agribusinesses on agricultural trade missions and helped more than 1,000 U.S. companies and organizations promote their wares at trade shows around the world.

Together, these trade promotion programs yield $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested. Unfortunately, without a new Farm Bill, these programs can’t continue.

The trade promotion programs complement USDA efforts with our Federal partners to expand trade agreements and break down unfair barriers to trade. In the past five years, the Obama Administration has challenged more than 750 sanitary and phytosanitary trade barriers, compared to less than 400 such challenges in the previous five-year period. We’ve also helped achieve new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, along with equivalency agreements for organic products to Canada, the European Union and Japan.

But the Farm Bill stands at the heart of our trade promotion effort, and companies across the nation need a renewed commitment to agricultural trade promotion that only a new Farm Bill can provide.

As we have undertaken record efforts to promote U.S. trade, we’re also hard at work here at home to help America’s farmers and ranchers increase their productivity.

Since 2009, USDA has provided a record number of farm loans – more than 159,000 – to help farmers get started and keep growing. Additionally, using Farm Bill programs that have since expired, we stepped in to help hundreds of thousands of producers facing disaster. So, in addition to the many trade-related benefits of the Farm Bill, USDA is awaiting passage of this legislation to continue helping farmers and ranchers grow the food needed to drive exports even higher.  A new Farm Bill would continue assistance to farm businesses through loans and loan guarantees, while also reauthorizing disaster assistance programs and providing retroactive help to livestock producers who have been hit particularly hard in the past two years.

American agriculture has been an economic success story in recent years – growing more despite adversity, sending more food around the world and creating more jobs here at home. There is even more success ahead, but we need a new Farm Bill as soon as possible to keep this record momentum going.

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