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150 Years of Supporting Agricultural Innovation


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This week marks a very special milestone for Nebraska and for American farming and ranching as we celebrate the 150th year since the creation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our country was in the throes of Civil War when, on May 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law creating what he called the "people's department." Its original mission of spreading information and developing agricultural innovations continues to this day.

President Lincoln signed another landmark law in 1862 -- the Homestead Act, which along with the establishment of USDA helped form the cornerstone of federal agriculture policy for our country. The Homestead Act paved the way for independent farm ownership and encouraged a land rush so great that Nebraska was able to achieve statehood in just five years. In the 1850's there was one farmer for every two Americans; today one farmer feeds more than 150 people worldwide each day. Together, American farmers and ranchers make the U.S. the largest agriculture exporter in the world.

The hard work and ingenuity of our producers has provided economic prosperity at home; abroad it has provided food to address hunger and build friendships. It is fitting that this anniversary falls during world trade month and on the same day our trade agreement with Colombia takes effect May 15. By lowering trade barriers -- eliminating some tariffs as high as 40 percent -- this agreement levels the playing field for American producers and ensures the greatest food supply in the world reaches more families in more places.

When I was Secretary of Agriculture I was very pleased to help fulfill the department's mission as outlined by President Lincoln. By the time of my tenure as the 28th Secretary, the role of the department had grown substantially and now serves a whole host of purposes. Innovations such as the land-grant university system, risk management tools, nutrition programs, food safety oversight, and support for rural communities have resulted in USDA's positive impact reaching every community across the country.

USDA's 150th birthday is a special moment for a department that has touched so many lives since it was first envisioned by President Lincoln. As the population of our country and the world continues to grow, the important role of American producers who provide food, fiber and fuel to more and more people will grow in kind. Federal policy should continue to create an environment where the skill and commitment of our farmers and ranchers sets the international standard for years to come. I have no doubt that on USDA's 300th birthday, our descendants will be able to look back on an even longer list of successes.

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