Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack traveled to Minnesota this weekend, where he visited a St. Paul rail yard to underscore President Obama's message about the importance of trade and exports to the American economy. Accompanying Vilsack were U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Commissioner Dave Fredrickson of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
"Since 2009, the President has signed into law important trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, keeping good-paying jobs here at home," said Vilsack. "And our work is not done. This week, the President and his European counterparts announced the launch of comprehensive trade negotiations. Across the country, strong agricultural trade continues to support a thriving middle class and our rural communities with good-paying jobs across a variety of sectors. For agriculture, the European Union is a significant partner, our fifth largest export market overall. The Obama Administration is now seizing an opportunity to expand existing markets and to gain new market access."
In his State of the Union Address, the President laid out how trade and exports would help America become a magnet for jobs in the generations to come, and further strengthen the middle class. Under his leadership, exports of U.S. food and agricultural products have achieved the four best years in history thanks to greater market opportunities, stronger tools for exporters, and a more level playing field for American businesses abroad. Agriculture remains one of the brightest spots in the U.S. economy, with the American brand of agriculture surging in popularity worldwide. Fiscal years 2009-2012 represent the strongest four years in history for U.S. agricultural exports, with sales exceeding $478 billion during this time. U.S. farm exports support more than 1 million good-paying American jobs in industries such as processing, packaging, transportation and sales.
The most recent farm income forecast shows the strongest net farm income in four decades--just another positive testament to the resilience and productivity of U.S. farmers and ranchers. The commitment of American producers to embrace innovation and adapt to new challenges has helped fuel growth for American agriculture since 2009.
In Minnesota, agricultural exports in 2011 were valued at $6.7 billion and supported nearly 40,000 Minnesota jobs, on and off the farm. At the same time, Minnesota is a vital shipping and transportation hub for food and agricultural products, linking major U.S. and Canadian markets via a network of railroads and trucking infrastructure. The Ports of Minneapolis and St. Paul together process more than 11 million tons of cargo to and from domestic and foreign markets each year.
While visiting with Minnesota businesses, Vilsack said comprehensive, multi-year farm legislation would provide certainty for businesses and ensure a strong safety net for producers. USDA's chief export assistance programs, part of the current 2008 Farm Bill, get resources to small and medium-sized businesses hoping to sell their products to international buyers.
The Market Access Program (MAP), for example, is a cost-share program for marketing and promoting U.S. products abroad--an especially tough market to crack for American small businesses. USDA's market development programs have a long history of helping farmers, ranchers, and businesses of all sizes build and maintain commercial markets for U.S. food and agricultural products around the world. For every dollar that government and industry invest in market development programs and activities, independent research has found agricultural exports increase by $35.
Today, 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, creating significant opportunities for U.S. food and agriculture.