USDA Programs Helping Fuel Food Export Boom

12/29/2012 7:00 AM

I recently joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as he made several stops in Pennsylvania to highlight the Obama administration’s efforts to achieve and expand upon record agricultural exports since 2008.

Under President Barack Obama’s leadership, exports of U.S. food and agricultural products will achieve the four best years in our nation’s history, thanks to greater market opportunities, stronger tools for exporters and a more level playing field for American business abroad.

The secretary met with producers and businesses in Philadelphia who are working with Food Export-Northeast to develop strategies for growing their businesses through increased exports.

Agricultural exports from Northeast states have grown from $9.2 billion in 2008 to $11.6 billion in 2011, while U.S. exports over the same period have expanded by more than $20 billion, supporting more than 1 million good-paying American jobs in industries such as processing, packaging, transportation and sales.

One of the businesses we met with in Philadelphia, Bassett’s Ice Cream, saw ice cream sales to China grow from $50,000 in 2008 to $800,000 in 2010, with projected sales of $2 million by the end of 2012, thanks in part to support from USDA market development programs.

The company was able to add one full-time employee in 2010 and is sourcing more milk and other ingredients from the Northeast.

The following day, we visited The Susquehanna Association for The Blind and Visually Impaired’s food processing facility in Leola, which provides employment opportunities for people who are blind or vision impaired.

One of the emerging new businesses using the facility is Nuts About Granola, a small mother/daughter business that sells gourmet granola from its new store in York, regional farmers markets and online. It is also currently expanding to markets in Brazil.

Nuts About Granola was able to expand its business by using YorKitchen, a shared incubator that was funded in part by a USDA Rural Development rural business enterprise grant. The kitchen incubator provides a professional kitchen for food entrepreneurs as well as technical assistance.

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.

The latest export forecast sees U.S. farm exports at their second highest level ever in 2012, while the forecast for 2013 is a record $143.5 billion. New trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and the European Union will deliver even greater returns for Pennsylvania-based and other U.S. businesses.

The Obama administration, with Vilsack’s leadership, has aggressively worked to expand export opportunities and reduce barriers to trade, helping to push agricultural exports to record levels in 2011 and beyond.

U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its best periods in history, thanks to the productivity, resiliency and resourcefulness of our producers and agribusinesses.

Today, net farm income is at record levels while debt has been cut in half since the 1980s. Overall, American agriculture supports one in 12 jobs in the United States and provides American consumers with 83 percent of the food we consume, while maintaining affordability and choice.

Strong agricultural exports contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, boost economic growth and support President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling all U.S. exports by the end of 2014.

Rural Development can assist agricultural producers in expanding their businesses through value added producer grants,; rural energy for america program grants,; and community facilities loans and grants (for farmers markets, community food banks, etc.),

Thomas P. Williams is the Pennsylvania state director of USDA Rural Development.

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