Thanksgiving is a time when Americans come together to celebrate a holiday that connects each and every one of us. During this truly American holiday, we all give thanks for the previous year’s blessings and look ahead to the future. While we may bring our own traditions and flavors to the table, Thanksgiving is a time for all of us to celebrate our country’s rich history.
It has always been a special holiday to me, but this past year I developed an even greater appreciation for all that goes in to producing the Thanksgiving meal. As Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I spent the last six months visiting with American farmers and learning about their businesses. In my conversations with American farmers and ranchers, I am always impressed by their work ethic, ingenuity, and dedication to making sure their customers get the best products. It’s no wonder that our nation's farmers were responsible for producing nearly 7.5 trillion pounds of turkey in 2012—nearly half the world’s supply!—and are leaders when it comes to many other foods regularly featured in Thanksgiving meals. In 2012, American farmers also produced 3.1 billion pounds of sweet corn and nearly 2.7 billion pounds of sweet potatoes.
At USDA, I am proud to lead an agency whose mission is to advance U.S. agricultural products by creating opportunities for producers. Whether by publishing critical market data, purchasing food for the National School Lunch Program and other feeding programs, or providing grading services that let producers promote the quality of their products to consumers, our agency serves all facets of American agriculture. For example, our AMS Market News staff works with organizations like the National Turkey Federation to provide current, unbiased price and sales information for hundreds of agricultural products. With more than 22.5 million turkeys expected to be eaten this holiday, having access to market data allows farmers and grocery stores to make more informed decisions as they prepare for the holiday rush.
AMS programs also help producers develop and expand markets for regional favorites like pecan pie, a staple in Thanksgiving dinners all over the southeast. In 2009, for example, the agency’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program helped the Georgia Pecan Growers Association promote the quality and health benefits of pecans grown in the state. As a result of new promotional efforts, pecans are now reaching new domestic and international markets and being featured on more Thanksgiving tables.
In the spirit of this holiday season, it is also important to remember those who are less fortunate. AMS plays a key role in providing food for those in need by purchasing commodities for USDA’s feeding programs. In fiscal year 2013, for example, AMS purchased over 92 million pounds of turkey! In addition to fighting hunger and ensuring that all Americans have safe, wholesome food, these purchases also help producers by stabilizing prices and balancing supply and demand.
I am certainly thankful to work at an agency that directly and indirectly creates opportunities for America’s hardworking farmers and ranchers. And this week, when we sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, I hope we all remember to give special thanks for those who produced the ingredients for our delicious meals on Thanksgiving—and throughout the year!