Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer addressed the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention in Kansas City, Mo. Wednesday. He spoke of the achievements made in agriculture during the past eight years and looked ahead to challenges facing the new administration.
"The past eight years have been a remarkable time for American agriculture. President Bush has ushered in an unprecedented growth in the agriculture economy," Schafer said. "It is my hope that the Obama administration will look at the long line of administration successes in agriculture and find a way to build on them with a bipartisan approach."
Schafer said that he has grown to appreciate the fact that USDA is a non-political department and voiced his hope that it remains that way under the new administration.
During his remarks, Schafer attributed today's prosperity in agriculture to strong commodity prices, rising export demand and the rapid growth of renewable fuel industry in rural America.
"This year cash farm income is on track to set an all-time record of over $100 billion," Schafer said. "We expect export sales to reach a record $114 billion and generate one-third of all cash receipts for U.S. farms."
Schafer says the new global marketplace has emerged and it is centered on one billion new middle-classed consumers in developing countries such as Mexico, India and China. These consumers are driving strong demand for grains, but also for beef, pork and chicken; for dairy and processed food products as well.
"These are markets that America's farmers and ranchers are well positioned to serve," Schafer said. "All they need is fair access and a level playing field with our foreign markets. That's why President Bush has consistently made expanding free trade one of his highest priorities."
Schafer spoke of the rapid growth of exports that we've achieved through the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement and talked about the bilateral free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and Korea that are awaiting action by Congress. He also mentioned the administration's efforts to advance the Doha Round of global trade talks and its importance to all of agricultural as we pursue trade in the global economy.
"All in all this administration has negotiated 17 free trade agreements," Schafer said. "The trade agreements we have in place have opened the door for market share gains by American producers in agriculture and other sectors as well."
According to Schafer these agreements have given U.S. producers the tools to protect those gains from challenges from producers in other nations, making sure the agreements have control mechanisms.
"The question for the next president is whether we continue to seek wider market opportunities for our producers or do we pull back," Schafer said. "There are a lot of protectionists out there; people who have the mistaken idea that somehow we are sheltered from the global economy. In the last election those anti-trade folks have gained seats in Congress and will work toward moving us backward on our trade agreements. If they prevail it will be bad for U.S. agriculture."