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Celebrating the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 150th Anniversary

Floor Speech

Location: Unknown

Ms. KAPTUR. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its 150th year of service. President Abraham Lincoln established USDA 150 years ago today in 1862.

American agriculture has been the second most productive sector of our nation's economy in the past decade. United States farm income is forecast at $91.7 billion in 2012, the second highest on record. Agriculture now accounts for 1 in 12 jobs in the United States.

United States agricultural exports have been particularly strong. Exports reached record levels in fiscal year 2011 of $137.4 billion. This level supported 1.15 million jobs here at home and contributed to a trade surplus of $42.7 billion in agriculture. Agriculture is one of the few sectors that the United States has consistently had a trade surplus.

American farmers and ranchers provide us with 86 percent of the food we consume. This efficiency results in American consumers spending less than 10 percent of their disposable incomes on food. By comparison, most European consumers spend more than double that, and in developing counties, the percentage is often as high as 50 percent.

USDA has played a vital role in the success of American agriculture. There is no doubt that without assistance from USDA American agriculture would not be as strong as it is today.

With the support of Congress, USDA provides a strong safety net for America's farmers and ranchers to ensure the United States continues to be the world's leader in agricultural production. USDA's crop insurance insures 264 million acres on about 500,000 farms. Crop insurance has helped more than 325,000 farmers who lost crops due to natural disasters over the past three years.
I want to highlight USDA's recent efforts in strengthening local and regional food systems. For many years, I have advocated and worked to provide federal assistance in supporting local food systems. Local food sales were valued at $4.8 billion in 2008 and are expected to grow in the coming years. We need to harvest this economic power to help create American jobs and strengthen our local economies.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) initiative represents a good first step in using USDA's programs to improve local food systems. KYF provides a one-stop shop for information on more than 25 USDA programs that could assist in developing and improving local food systems, encourages much needed collaboration across agencies to reduce bureaucratic barriers in supporting and expanding marketing opportunities in local food markets, and works to connect farmers directly to consumers, which helps increase the availability of healthy nutritious foods.

KYF efforts have been hugely successful related to farmers' markets. We have seen a 54 percent increase in the number of farmers' markets since 2008. Over 2,400 farmers' markets and farm stands are now authorized to accept EBT, an increase of 51 percent over last year.

Mr. Speaker, while there are many challenges still facing American agriculture, there is no doubt in my mind that USDA is up to the task. From my perspective, the future success of USDA and American agriculture will depend on our support for local food systems and other emerging markets such as the specialty crop market.

I congratulate USDA for its 150th Anniversary and thank all the department's employees for their service.

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