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USDA Reorganizes to Emphasize the Importance of Trade to U.S. Agriculture


Bernadette Wiltz, SUSTA
In collaboration with World Perspectives, Inc. 

Some of you may have seen the opinion editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled Farmers Know the Benefits of Trade, authored by recently-confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. To this statement, SUSTA would add: “…so do the many small and medium-sized food processing and manufacturing companies throughout the SUSTA region.” After all, for most agriculture commodities it is the processor and manufacturer who bring them to the consumer – including increasingly important international consumers in key markets across the globe.

Secretary Perdue’s article accompanied his announcement of a major reorganization of the USDA, a move that was spurred by the 2014 Farm Bill. In the last Farm Bill, Congress directed USDA to create a new position, Undersecretary of Trade, within the Department. The purpose is to have a senior level official, focused solely on food and agriculture, to work within the U.S. Government (along with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative) in promoting U.S. food and agricultural exports.

According to USDA’s calculations, every dollar of U.S. food and agricultural exports add another $1.27 in domestic economic activity. Using this economic multiplier tool, this means that during SUSTA’s 2015 program year more than $414 million in export sales by 253 different small and medium-sized SUSTA companies generated approximately $940 million in total economic activity in our Southern region.

Critical to SUSTA’s continued success is the Market Access Program (MAP), our primary tool here at SUSTA to help Southern U.S. companies reach international markets. Indeed, MAP is like a Swiss Army knife – supporting companies with informational seminars, inbound trade missions for foreign buyers, outbound missions for our companies, and international trade shows through the Global Events activities. Further, SUSTA provides reimbursements to Southern companies for eligible export marketing expenses under the 50% CostShare program.

The USDA reorganization comes while Congress is beginning discussions on the next Farm Bill. Amid USDA reorganization and the critical period of new Farm Bill development, SUSTA remains focused on 1) serving Southern U.S. small businesses, and 2) capturing accurate metrics to document program success and delivering these metrics to decision makers at the state and Federal level.

It is too easy to become overwhelmed by often dramatic news reports on food, agriculture and trade. SUSTA strives to maintain its focus, continue to serve its constituency and help generate positive economic impact. At SUSTA we couldn’t agree more with Secretary Perdue that “food is a noble thing to trade.”