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USDA and Peace Corps Team Up in Screwworm Eradication Efforts in Panama

Over the past few months, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), as part of the U.S. Panama Commission for Eradication of Screwworm, has started to partner with Peace Corps Volunteers in Panama to enhance APHIS’ surveillance activities. Volunteers will be working in rural Panama and meeting with local communities to raise awareness about as well as report suspected cases of New World screwworm, one of the most costly and economically significant pests of livestock in South America.

The New World screwworm is a parasite of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Female screwworms are attracted to and lay their eggs in exposed flesh wounds.  After eggs hatch, larvae burrow and feed on flesh, causing severe tissue damage and may even be lethal to the host. The screwworm was eradicated from the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Curacao and, finally, all of Central America in 2006 using the Sterile Insect Technique in which sterile male flies are released in massive numbers to mate with wild female populations. The mated female flies then lay non-viable eggs, leading to a decrease and subsequent eradication of screwworm populations. To prevent the screwworm from spreading north of South America, The Commission is maintaining a barrier at the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, by utilizing both preventive release of sterile flies and field surveillance.

Secretary's Column: A New Farm Bill to Carry On America's Record Agricultural Trade

Over the course of 2013, we’ve seen yet another banner year for U.S. agricultural exports. Exports of U.S. farm and ranch products reached a record $140.9 billion in 2013 and supported about a million U.S. jobs. In fact, compared to the previous five-year period from 2004-2008, U.S. agricultural exports from 2009-2013 increased by a total of nearly $230 billion.

All told, the past five years represent the strongest five-year period in our nation’s history for agricultural exports.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has focused on two key factors in recent years to help make this success possible. First, an unprecedented effort by USDA and our Federal partners to expand and grow markets around the world. Second, a commitment to make sure our farmers and ranchers have the tools to grow more, even in the face of uncertainty.

Online Tool Helps Ag Exporters Track Trade Agreements

The United States has free trade agreements with 20 countries around the world that expand export opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural producers.  To help exporters obtain information about tariff reductions resulting from these FTAs, the Foreign Agricultural Service recently launched the Agricultural Tariff Tracker.

“The tracker was developed in response to requests from the agricultural export community for more detailed information about export opportunities resulting from FTAs,” said Jeff Jones, a senior policy advisor with FAS. “Though we’ve seen significant expansion in U.S. agricultural exports as a result of our trade agreements, there will be even more opportunities for U.S. agricultural exporters in the future as tariffs continue to fall throughout implementation,” he said. “Providing more information in a user-friendly format will allow exporters to maximize the potential of these agreements.”

Secretary's Column: An Update on Exports

The past four years have been tremendously positive for America’s efforts to export more agricultural goods and products around the world.

The brand of American agriculture is soaring worldwide. In fact, 2009 to 2012 represents the best four years in our nation’s history for agricultural exports. Exports have grown more than 50% over that period of time.

We have reason to believe that more good news is ahead. Recently, USDA economists forecast agricultural product exports for next year to exceed $145 billion. That would set yet another new record – and it would allow agricultural exports to continue supporting more than a million jobs.

U.S. Agriculture to Benefit from Panama Trade Agreement

The U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (Panama TPA) entered into force Oct. 31, expanding market access for U.S. agricultural exporters in one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. The Panama TPA is the last in a trio of trade agreements (South Korea and Colombia are the others) that altogether are expected to boost U.S. agricultural exports by $2.2 billion when fully implemented.

A Reflection on the State of Agriculture and the Future

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of traveling to Kansas City to address our nation’s farm broadcasters at the 68th Annual National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) meeting to answer questions about key issues affecting our agricultural community.  Since I usually only talk to the broadcasters over the phone, I enjoy coming to NAFB each year to meet with them face-to-face.  This year was particularly special because I was able to share good news regarding the state of our agricultural economy, farm exports as well as information about recent USDA streamlining initiatives that will allow us better assist our nation’s producers.

I was proud to announce that we set a record of $137.4 billion in agricultural exports this past fiscal year—exceeding past highs by over $22.5 billion—to support more than 115 million American jobs.  We were able to set a trade surplus record of $42 billion, which is a testimony to the hard work of our nation’s producers as the backbone of the American economy.

Secretary’s Column: Working Together to Create Jobs

Recently, both houses of Congress took action to support tens-of-thousands of American jobs by ratifying trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, as well as passing trade adjustment assistance to help train workers for the 21st century economy.  And last week, the President signed them.

These agreements are a win for the American economy.  For American agriculture, their passage will mean over $2.3 billion in additional exports, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs here at home for folks who package, ship, and market agricultural products.

Greater Private Sector Diversity Sought on USDA’s Agricultural Trade Advisory Committees

The face of America – and of American agriculture – is changing. The number of farms in the United States has grown 4 percent and the operators of those farms have become more diverse in the past five years, according to results of USDA’s most recent Census of Agriculture.  The 2007 Census counted nearly 30 percent more women as principal farm operators. The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10 percent, and the counts of American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators increased as well.  In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of minority-owned businesses grew more than 45 percent between 2002 and 2007.

To reflect the diversity of our agricultural sector and business community, USDA is stepping up its efforts to continually supplement its seven Agricultural Trade Advisory Committees (ATACs) with new members, especially those who represent minorities, women, or persons with disabilities. We believe that people with different backgrounds and views will make the work of these committees, and thus of USDA, more effective.

New Trade Agreements a Boon for American Agriculture

Outside of farm country, many people don’t realize the importance of American agriculture to our overall economy. One in 12 American jobs is connected to agriculture, in all sorts of industries from picking and processing, to packing and shipping, to shelving at your local market. And despite hardships and setbacks this year due to extreme weather, America’s farm economy remains one of the brightest spots in our nation’s economy.