, Farm Journal Media Business & Crops Online Editor
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer spoke at a monthly St. Louis Agribusiness Club meeting yesterday, Oct. 9. His remarks covered many current agricultural topics, such as the present economy crisis, renewable fuels, farm bill implementation, livestock issues and free trade.
Economy Crunch and Agriculture
"I thought we should probably consider the roller coaster ride we've seen in the financial markets these days,” said Schafer in his opening remarks.
He said the economy's downfall has spread beyond the borders of the U.S. "It has made our world flatter,” Schafer said. "It has changed the risks and reality of doing business for every industry. We've been seeing, in real time, just how connected the world's financial markets are.”
Even with the current concerns about the economy, Schafer remained optimistic.
"The scope of this financial crisis certainly is wider, deeper and had more impact than other market breaks that we've weathered in our past,” he said. "But, we are watching for any signs that might tighten the availability of farm credit. So far the system appears to be reasonably healthy.
But, he said, much will depend on the future prices of commodities, fuel and energy.
Importance of Free Trade
Schafer's comments also focused strongly on free trade and the importance of the topic to the current administration.
"Our country-to-country free trade relationships will be even more important tools for us to compete,” he said. "That's why winning the free trade passage with Korea, Columbia and Panama remains one of President Bush's top priorities.”
Korea, for example, holds much potential for U.S. agriculture, Schafer said. "The free trade deal with Korea would give us access to a $1 trillion economy and 49 million consumers,” he said. In addition, Schafer said, the agreement with Korea could generate an additional $1.6 billion in agriculture products each year.
Renewable energy and fuels was another key topic Schafer addressed. "The renewable fuel industry here at home is critically important to the future of the growth of American agriculture,” he said.
Schafer highlighted the importance of moving forward with second-generation biofuels. "If we don't move forward with second-generation fuels, we're not going to meet our goals [the Renewable Fuel Standard],” he said. "We're really going to have to push ahead for the next generation of fuels.”