Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow met with community leaders, farmers and ranchers today to explore ways federal, state and local officials can work together to improve economic conditions and create jobs in Michigan.
"The Obama Administration is focused on creating good-paying jobs in the Midwest and across America that help businesses grow and communities thrive," said Vilsack. "We know that the best ideas come from the American people, so I am glad that Senator Stabenow gave me this opportunity to hear directly from Michigan residents about their ideas, so we can continue to put people back to work and grow our economy."
Secretary Vilsack highlighted that Michigan's agri-food industry contributes $71.3 billion annually to the state's economy, making it the state's second-largest economic driver. The state's production agriculture, food processing and related businesses employ more than 1 million Michigan residents. As one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation, Michigan farmers produce more than 200 different food commodities at farms on a wide range of sizes, and leading the nation in the production of 18 commodities.
Last year, Michigan farm exports grew 10 percent over 2009 figures, delivering $1.75 billion in sales and supporting almost 15,000 jobs in the state. Soybean exports alone grew by 40 percent. This success underscores a larger success story for U.S. agriculture as exports for 2011 are on course to shatter previous records to a $44 billion trade surplus. USDA is working to support those exports through President Obama's National Export Initiative, which challenged U.S. businesses to double all exports by the end of 2014.
To encourage Michigan's local and regional food movement, USDA is supporting smaller and mid-sized farmers in Michigan, who may not have the ability to compete in international markets. USDA is providing specialty crop growers -- who account for nearly $2 billion in annual agricultural sales for Michigan -- with research and assistance aimed at combating pests and diseases that may threaten the productivity of farmers. Last year, USDA provided the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development with funding for 25 projects that support specialty crops efforts like conducting radio advertising to increase sales of fresh Michigan asparagus and promoting locally grown Michigan apples in the greater Chicago market to raise awareness and grow market share. In July, USDA announced that it will conduct a pilot program for acquiring fresh fruits and vegetables to increase farm-to-school programs in Michigan. The pilot will use commercial distribution models already in place and allow schools to obtain locally grown produce.
Today's forum served as an opportunity to educate participants about these USDA programs and other resources across the federal government to help rebuild and revitalize America's rural communities. In June, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the first White House Rural Council, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and a series of working groups have been held in recent weeks to advance the Council's objectives. The White House Rural Council is working collaboratively to build on the Administration's robust economic strategy for rural America and make sure that continued federal investments create maximum benefit for rural Americans. Secretary Vilsack is working to coordinate USDA programs across the government and encourage public-private partnerships to improve economic conditions and create jobs in rural communities
Last Tuesday, President Obama hosted the White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta, Iowa. The Forum brought together farmers, small business owners, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials to discuss ideas and initiatives to promote economic growth, accelerate hiring, and spur innovation in rural communities nationwide. The President engaged directly with a variety of rural leaders from across the nation to discuss the importance of growing small businesses and strengthening the middle class in rural America.
Since his inauguration, President Obama's Administration has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans and has provided broad support for rural communities. The Obama Administration has set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, providing affordable health care, promoting innovation and expanding the production of renewable energy. In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America's rural communities are repopulating, self-sustaining, and thriving economically.