By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

TAMPA, Fla., March 4 - With sometimes evangelistic fervor, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack applauded the terrific contributions American farmers and ranchers make to the U.S. economy by shattering agricultural trade records, creating jobs, and ensuring affordable food for U.S. families.

“This is going to be a good year overall for farm country,” Vilsack told a record crowd at the 2011 Commodity Classic, detailing USDA forecasts for double-digit increases in farm income, cash receipts and exports.


Secretary Tom Vilsack thanks farmers at Commodity Classic for their record-breaking year. Photo: Agri-Pulse.

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 Obama administration, Vilsack insisted, understands the “significance and importance” of foreign trade.

The Secretary also thanked the crowd for helping to meet President Obama’s challenge to double U.S. exports and create several million new jobs by 2014. But despite the recent export gains, Vilsack pointed out that only 1% of U.S. companies export, and yet 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the borders of the United States.

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. Vilsack anticipates the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) being sent to Congress in the “next several weeks” and said he hopes it is ratified by July.

He highlighted several new opportunities on the horizon for U.S. agriculture, including bio-based products and energy, and argued the rest of country needs to pay attention to what’s occurring in rural America – less debt, lower unemployment, and more economic innovation.

“The farmers in this room have provided the prescription that this nation must follow to get itself back totally on its feet,” Vilsack said.

He forcefully reiterated the administration’s commitment to expand use of biofuels and, to the delight of his audience, railed against those who blame increased use of corn-based ethanol for higher food prices, calling the food versus fuel argument “irritating.”

Despite the smallest U.S. corn supply in 15 years, the USDA Chief left little doubt that he believes farmers will produce enough corn in 2011 to meet feed, fuel and export needs.

“You should never ever bet against the American farmer because if you do, it’s a losing bet.”

To listen to Secretary Vilsack’s speech, click HERE.

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