Southwest Farm Press: House ag chair outlines committee goals

• House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas led off, speaking about his experience as a farmer and his goals for the committee. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack followed, talking about his respect for farmers, particularly addressing the important roles they play in international trade and national security.

U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed the General Session of Commodity Classic 2011.

Lucas led off, speaking about his experience as a farmer and his goals for the committee. Vilsack followed, talking about his respect for farmers, particularly addressing the important roles they play in international trade and national security.

Lucas began by stating that “the EPA assault on production agriculture must stop.” In an attempt to stop his efforts, he noted that his committee is scheduled to hold hearings in which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will answer questions on the agency’s basis for such decisions as limiting rural dust and continually questioning the safety of proven chemicals such as atrazine.

He then questioned Department of Agriculture policies noting that they tend to favor “niche” markets that should not become the dominant focus of departmental activities, noting that the department is charged with keeping the overall farm economy strong and ensuring the U.S. produces enough to meet demand for food, feed and fiber.

Lucas concluded with a frank discussion of the prospects for the 2012 farm bill.

Vilsack acknowledged the incredible advancements made in American agriculture that allow the average consumer in this country to spend only six to seven percent of their income at the supermarket. He went on to compare this to other countries, where the average ranges from 25 up to as much as 50 percent. Pointing out the amount of income this frees for U.S. consumers to invest in retirement, college savings or simply to purchase the goods they desire, Vilsack noted it is infrequent that they take the time to thank the farmers and modern farming techniques that make this possible.

"We are all fortunate to be living through one of the most productive eras in history for U.S. agriculture," said Vilsack. "American farmers and ranchers are seeing record sales of farm goods abroad and looking forward to some of the best net incomes in decades. U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal 2011 are on course to shatter previous records and enjoy a record $47.5 billion trade surplus. This record productivity is creating employment across a variety of sectors, including transportation and storage.

Moreover, because American agriculture produces 86 percent of the food we consume, our families spend less at the grocery store compared to consumers in much of the rest of the world. As producers of high-quality products and conscientious stewards of our lands, American farmers and ranchers deserve our gratitude."

Vilsack stressed the importance of agricultural exports to the U.S. economy noting a projected total of $135 billion for 2011. This would yet again break the ag export total set in 2010. He went on to explain that for every one billion dollars in agricultural exports, eight thousand jobs are created in the United States. Given that projections are met, U.S. ag exports would employ one million people in 2011.

Acknowledging the incredible importance of this contribution, Vilsack promised his department would continue to support programs that help develop export markets. Specifically, he noted the department is focusing on countries with a growing middle class population such as China, now the largest foreign buyer of U.S. ag exports. He noted that the department would continue to fund trade shows and programs that bring potential foreign buyers to the U.S. for a closer look at production and trade systems.

Vilsack went on to stress that biofuels are vital to U.S. national security. Currently, the United States imports 60 percent of all oil used. He noted that the money sent overseas in these transactions often may not go to regimes or areas where there is a favorable view of America. He went on to note that the U.S. can use biofuels to reduce foreign oil dependence, keeping more money in the economy and creating jobs domestically.

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