Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave the keynote address today to an audience of more than 4,500 farmers and commodity group representatives during the General Session of the 16th Annual Commodity Classic in Tampa, Fla. In his remarks, the Secretary commended American farmers, ranchers and producers for helping to lead the United States' economic recovery by shattering agricultural trade records, creating jobs at home and ensuring affordable food for U.S. families.
"We are all fortunate to be living through one of the most productive eras in history for U.S. agriculture," said Vilsack. "American farmers and ranchers are seeing record sales of farm goods abroad and looking forward to some of the best net incomes in decades. U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal 2011 are on course to shatter previous records and enjoy a record $47.5 billion trade surplus. This record productivity is creating employment across a variety of sectors, including transportation and storage. Moreover, because American agriculture produces 86 percent of the food we consume, our families spend less at the grocery store compared to consumers in much of the rest of the world. As producers of high-quality products and conscientious stewards of our lands, American farmers and ranchers deserve our gratitude."
Commodity Classic attracts farmers and producer groups involved in the U.S. corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum industries. The trade show portion of Commodity Classic hosts about 860 booths with the latest agricultural equipment, technology, products, and services from more than 220 businesses. Participants also take part in policy discussions, view demonstrations, and attend learning sessions.
In calendar year 2010, U.S. exports of corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and related products, including animal feed, garnered sales of $44.7 billion. Total exports for calendar year 2010 were $115.8 billion.
As part of his message to the audience, Vilsack also stressed the importance of agriculture to the nation's economic resurgence and job growth. U.S. agriculture and related industries account for one in 12 jobs nationwide. Exports of U.S. farm goods -- which were recently projected to smash previous records by $20 billion -- create additional jobs: Every $1 billion in farm exports supports roughly 8,000 jobs in the United States. Farm exports alone will support more than 1 million jobs in 2011.
The Secretary also thanked the farmer-heavy crowd for helping to meet President Obama's challenge to double U.S. exports and create several million new jobs by 2014. The Secretary challenged producer groups, as well as USDA staff, to continue to reach out to small- and medium- sized producers with guidance and assistance on breaking into export markets. In 2010, the President laid out his challenge to all sectors of the economy with his National Export Initiative (NEI), a program intended to coordinate federal efforts to expand export opportunities. Despite the recent export gains, Vilsack pointed out that only 1 percent of U.S. companies export, and yet 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the borders of the United States.
"We can do better to reach those consumers," Vilsack said.
The Secretary suggested that the trade agreements now before the U.S. Congress would help to increase farm exports, support job creation, and bolster the American economy. Currently, the Obama administration is working to move forward on proposed U.S. trade agreements with South Korea, then Panama and Colombia -- nations with 100 million consumers. USDA expects the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement to expand U.S. agricultural exports to Korea by $1.9 billion, bringing about 15,000 new jobs to agriculture-related industries. Successful ratification of all three trade agreements would bring billions of dollars to U.S. agriculture, Vilsack said, thereby benefitting the American economy as a whole.