Secretary Vilsack spoke with delegations from 34 countries as part of the 10th Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Conference, held in Memphis, Tenn. In his remarks, the Secretary reaffirmed his vision for comprehensive and long lasting regional economic development.
The potential to grow and make innovative products in rural America is limitless. Since 2009, the Obama Administration has made targeted investments to help rural businesses grow. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's projects in affordable housing, energy efficiency, roads and bridges, and internet access, coupled with loans and grants for rural businesses, the Administration has helped to attract and retain a talented rural labor force, improve connectivity and access to information, move products to market, and make rural communities competitive—ultimately supporting strong local economies and expanded opportunity for rural Americans.
These investments are creating new markets for innovative rural products in four key areas:
- Opening Foreign Markets: USDA has opened new markets abroad for farm and ranch products. Recent trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea will result in an estimated $2.3 billion in additional agricultural trade each year and support nearly 20,000 domestic jobs. USDA continues to pursue strong new trade deals that will expand exports and help farm and ranch businesses grow and create jobs.
- Breaking down Barriers: USDA has removed numerous barriers to U.S. trade. We have removed unfair restrictions to help farmers export more U.S. apples to China, a market with an estimated value of nearly $100 million per year and expanded market access for U.S. beef in Japan, Mexico, Hong Kong, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Uruguay. Total U.S. beef and beef product exports reached a record $6.8 billion (1.2 billion tons) in fiscal year 2014.
- Expanding Access to Credit: USDA support has helped more than 89,000 rural small businesses grow through grant and loan support, creating or saving more than 420,000 jobs.
- Researching New Methods: USDA scientists and university partners are conducting research every day to help farmers and businesses grow and produce more. In recent years they have revealed the genetic blueprints of apples, pigs, turkeys, tomatoes, beans, wheat and barley.
Local and Regional Food Systems
- Creating Local Markets: USDA has strengthened local and regional food systems by investing in projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities for small businesses and increase access to healthy foods. For example, the number of food hubs has nearly doubled since 2009, with more than 300 now operational around the country thanks in part to support from USDA.
- Growing Regional Businesses: USDA is helping create strong regional supply chains and the jobs that come with them. Since 2009, USDA has made over 500 investments in local food infrastructure - from cold storage facilities, to processing plants, to food hubs that aggregate products from many farms and help smaller producers reach larger buyers.
- Making Resources More Accessible: USDA has a variety of resources available to help every part of a regional food system grow stronger and contribute to local economies. Sometimes the best lessons learned are from other communities who have forged a successful path. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass maps over 4,500 projects where USDA and 11 other federal agencies have invested in local and regional food systems to encourage community development and peer to peer learning.
- Pursuing Expanding Markets: Schools, hospitals, retailers and other institutional and wholesale buyers are a rapidly expanding market opportunity for local producers and an investment into local economies. USDA's Farm to School, for example, efforts are working directly with producers and schools to supply over $385 million in local food, reaching over 23 million students in school cafeterias and investing in the health of America's next generation.
The Biobased Economy
- Growing New Fuel: USDA helped jumpstart efforts to provide a reliable supply of advanced plant materials for biofuels. Through our Biomass Crop Assistance Program, for example, USDA is incentivizing more than 850 growers and landowners farming nearly 48,000 acres to establish and produce dedicated, nonfood energy crops for delivery to energy conversion facilities.
- Creating New Infrastructure: To ensure those feedstocks are put to use, USDA has invested in the work needed to create advanced biofuels refineries. USDA has supported efforts to build 6 new biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels in Louisiana, Georgia, Oregon, Nevada, North Carolina, and Iowa, in addition to three existing facilities in New Mexico, Michigan and Florida previously supported by the program.
- Putting Innovation to Use: USDA has worked with agencies to strengthen markets for biobased products. Approximately 2,000 products now carry USDA's BioPreferred label. Approximately 150 applications for the BioPreferred label are in process. Companies in over 40 countries on six continents are now participating in the BioPreferred program.
Conservation and Natural Resources
- New Model for Conservation Investment: To date, USDA has 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to improve the nation's water quality, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability. RCPP brings a radically different approach to investing in natural resource conservation and empowers local communities to work with multiple partners, farmers and ranchers to design solutions that work best for them.
- New Strategy to Mitigate the Impact of Climate Change: USDA has developed a framework of ten "building blocks" that span a range of technologies and practices to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increase farm operations' energy efficiency, and help farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production.
- New Uses for Wood: USDA launched the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition in 2014, a $2 million prize competition in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and Binational Softwood Lumber Council to support a resilient rural wood products industry, promote forest restoration and retention, and foster sustainability in the built environment.
- Fostering Innovation: USDA has awarded more than 323 Conservation Innovation Grants since 2009 to support the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies.
Inspiring and innovative work is going on across the country today - from our smallest towns to our biggest cities. USDA will continue investing to build partnerships and further innovation. Together, we can grow more prosperity in rural America, and grow the bottom line for American business.