At a House Agriculture Committee hearing Thursday on the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took the opportunity to talk about the rising, record-setting exports during the first half of this fiscal year.
"The U.S. farm exports reached an all time high of $75 billion in the first half of fiscal year 2011," Vilsack said. "This is up 27% from the same period last year and is keeping us on track to hit the forecast. U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to reach a record high of $135.5 billion, up nearly $27 billion from the previous year."
Both the value and volume of exports rose in the first half of the year, with the volume of bulk shipments up 5% from last year. March was the highest-grossing month for U.S. agricultural exports ever. During that month alone, U.S. farmers and ranchers exported $13.3 billion worth of U.S. agricultural goods. That's $407 million more than the previous record set in November 2010.
However, USDA Trade Analyst Nora Brooks believes that projection could be adjusted upward at the end of the month. She says higher commodity prices are one reason for the rise in exports.
"We had cotton values shoot up 169% over the first six months and shipments are up 69%," Brooks said. "Wheat values are up more than 100% while shipments are up 44%, and corn values are up 36%."
Vilsack explains that agriculture exports are important to the U.S. economy and trade success around the world.
"At the end of the day increased exports mean more opportunities for small business owners and for folks who package, ship and market agricultural products as well as agricultural producers," Vilsack said. "It means better incomes for our nation's family farmers and more jobs across rural America."
Brooks expects exports to rise to $150 billion for the second half of the 2011 fiscal year.