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John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Ag Industry Helping to Shrink Trade Deficit

Aug 17, 2012

The news is full of worrisome problems. We have the drought which is hurting our ag industry and farmers across the heartland. Europe can’t seem to find a fix for their economic crisis. And can we be far behind with our own crushing debt? Save those issues for another day. They won’t go away anytime soon. Today, let’s look at ag trade.

The U.S. trade deficit declined this last month by 5 billion dollars. Our ag industry certainly deserves a fair share of the credit for that decline. Our farmers produce an abundance of food for domestic consumption; but let’s not overlook the fact that some 30 percent of what we grow we export. Last year, our exports totaled 136 billion dollars. The U.S. in total trade runs a big trade deficit every year. But not in ag products. Last year, we ran a 37 billion dollar trade surplus.

Look back to 1978 when USDA organized the Foreign Agricultural Service at the Department to push our exports. At that time, 60 percent of our farm exports were grain. The 1970s were good years when Secretary Earl Butz sold grain to the Soviet Union. Prices jumped. Today, our export sales are nearly 5 times what they were then. They are better balanced with 36 percent grains and oil seeds, meat and poultry, 15 percent, and produce, 13 percent. We have done an amazing job.

Thirty years have passed and it is time to take a new look at USDA’s trade structure. Trade is so important to our industry, our country, and a growing world population. The ag trade function at USDA must be given a higher priority. Funding for farm programs and subsidies will surely be cut. Let’s give the trade function the attention it deserves. There is legislation in the Congress to do just that. Give it a push.

I’ll be on the farm this weekend and report to you what I find next week.

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

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