Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement on data released this week showing record U.S. farm exports and farm income: “This year brought a host of challenges for America’s farmers, ranchers and producers: Hurricanes, floods, drought and other extreme weather have driven thousands of Americans from their homes, destroyed crops, and threatened our rural communities. But despite the setbacks, American agriculture is thriving, demonstrating again that the men and women who own and operate America’s farms and ranches are some of the most resilient in the world.
“We learned this week in the Farm Income report that both net cash income and net farm income are record in nominal terms and, adjusting for inflation, are at their highest levels since the early 1970s. Meanwhile, total farm debt declined nearly 2 percent.
“That’s a major achievement and a testament to our farmers and ranchers, who continue to work hard, innovate and make smart business decisions in these challenging times. It shows that they are making good investments, reducing their debt, and using their resources wisely. Their success story is not celebrated often enough. And it is due, in part, to their willingness to seize opportunities in new markets, both domestic and foreign.
“Farmers are working with USDA and other partners to expand opportunities to sell their products regionally and in their own communities. Making these sorts of connections—so a farmer can sell to a local school, hospital, or a family just a few dozen or hundred miles away—helps keep wealth right here in America, and is creating good paying jobs in our rural communities.
“Our farmers are also the best in the world at finding consumers far from home. Today, a new forecast of U.S. agricultural exports confirmed that ‘Grown in America’ products remain in high regard and high demand in the rest of the world. The current U.S. export forecast for fiscal year 2011 is $137 billion, $22 billion higher than the previous record set in 2008 and $28 billion above 2010. And exports for 2012 will remain equally strong and help to support over one million American jobs. In fact, taken as a whole, the United States is in the midst of experiencing the three best years in our history in terms of agricultural exports.
“Strong exports have enabled agriculture to remain one of only a few sectors of the U.S. economy to enjoy a trade surplus. This year’s surplus is projected at $42.5 billion—a record—and next year should be $32 billion, the third-highest. In the months ahead, USDA will continue to work to maintain and expand this level of production through our commitment to agricultural research and development, removing barriers to trade, maintaining a strong safety net for farmers, and helping to expand our local and regional food systems. This is how we will build an economy that continues to grow, innovate and out-compete the rest of the world.
“The export forecast also highlights why we must move forward with pending trade agreements. Congress can help U.S. farmers and ranchers maintain a competitive advantage –and help to keep jobs here at home—by ratifying the South Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements. When fully implemented, those three agreements will immediately add more than $2 billion per year to our economy and support thousands of additional jobs here in the United States.