This week I traveled to North Carolina and Virginia to view the damage from Hurricane Irene, survey the response efforts, and meet with local residents. This trip was my fourth in as many months to make sure that the USDA is helping families rebuild and recover from natural disasters including tornados, wild fires, floods and drought.
So I've seen how tough times are affecting folks across the nation, and particularly our farmers and ranchers. Unusual weather patterns have driven thousands of Americans from their homes, and threatened their livelihoods. And my heart goes out to all of those who have been touched by these disasters.
Over the past months, USDA has worked to minimize damage to homes, businesses, crop land, and property. And most importantly, we have focused on protecting the American people and getting them on the road to recovery as quickly as possible.
For farmers, ranchers, and growers who have seen their crops decimated by drought, flood or other disasters, this year reminds us of the critical importance of maintaining a strong safety net. Producers have already received more than $1.6 billion in crop insurance payments for their losses this year on top of emergency program support worth $160 million. And USDA has looked for additional flexibility in our programs to offer credit and support to help families and farm operations rebuild.
Despite these challenges, American agriculture is as resilient as ever. In fact, according to USDA's new estimates, farm income is at an all time high, and even adjusting for inflation this will be the best year since the mid-1970s. Net farm income is up more than 30% over last year. And it will mean higher incomes for farm families.
We are also in the middle of a record year for agricultural exports, which we should match again next year. This will help support more than 1 million American jobs and mean an agricultural trade surplus of about $42.5 billion.
I know how hard these times can be. I have seen first-hand families whose crops were destroyed by a hurricane, or whose fields were covered by several feet of water.
But I have also watched an impressive response, as USDA has worked with farmers and ranchers across the nation to make it through these difficult times.
These natural disasters have challenged us as a nation. But despite the setbacks, American agriculture is thriving. The men and women who own and operate America's farms and ranches are some of the most resilient in the world. And I know that with their continued dedication and hard work, we will maintain the strength and profitability of American agriculture, and its work to provide food to the nation.