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Discovering New Opportunities in Thailand - from Grains and Greens to Seafood

In mid-August, I traveled to Southeast Asia and witnessed firsthand the great strides being made to help increase food security and trade. I also came to appreciate the immense potential for future trade opportunities in the area. I returned with a reaffirmed sense of urgency to continue building upon recent gains in trade with Thailand.

Thailand purchased a record $1.7 billion in food and agricultural products last year from the United States, making it our 13th largest export market. Overall, U.S. agricultural exports to Thailand have grown by more than 150 percent over the past decade. Throughout my visit, growing demand for both U.S. bulk commodities and consumer products was very clear.

U.S. Softwood Exports Making Headway in Thailand

The pine forests of Georgia and the Pacific Northwest are a far cry from the crowded streets of Bangkok, where several shipments of U.S. softwood products are headed thanks to a collaborative effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the Southern Forest Products Association and the Softwood Export Council.

In June 2014, executives from five Thai lumber companies visited the United States under the auspices of FAS’s Cochran Fellowship Program. Thanks to the knowledge they gained and the relationships they forged with the U.S. softwood industry during their visit, several participants subsequently made first-time purchases of U.S. softwood. These initial purchases are a big step for U.S. softwood producers to make headway into the $58 million market in Thailand.

USDA Joins World Leaders at the United Nations to Kickoff International Year of Soils

Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.”  Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture.

Hmong Farmer Overcomes Adversity, Makes the Most of American Opportunities

Kao Her is a self-taught poultry farmer. Everything he knows about poultry farming he learned over two weeks with the farm’s previous owner and nine years of on the job trial-and-error.

“I’ve learned a lot by mistake,” said Her, a member of the Hmong community. “My cousin always told me to do my research before getting into something new. But that’s never been my way of doing things.”

Her houses 235,000 broilers, or meat chickens, in six poultry houses in the small town of Noel, Missouri, located just six miles northeast of where Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma intersect. He walks three miles a day through his 500-foot and 600-foot houses checking on the chickens that help provide for his family. Since beginning his Class 1 poultry operation in 2005, Her has raised chickens for local commercial poultry operator, Simmons.

Helping Small Businesses Make a Trade Impact

Recently, USDA announced that U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year 2013 finished at another record level, continuing the strongest five-year period for such exports in our nation’s history. Much of this success is due to small businesses, which Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted are the backbone of the economy in rural communities, small towns and big cities.

USDA’s efforts with small businesses is helped by the work of four State Regional Trade Groups – coalitions of state departments of agriculture – that use USDA market development program funds to provide support for about 30,000 companies annually.

Colorado Partners Unite to Fight Summer Hunger

Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado, is known for its diversity of businesses and residents.  It is home to establishments ranging from upscale restaurants to motels housing low-income and homeless families. However, the upscale scene doesn’t tell the whole story. Within a two-mile stretch of Colfax, there are an estimated 15,000 children who qualify for free and reduced school meals, which means there are thousands of children who could benefit from a free nutritious meal during the summer.

Several Colorado organizations recognized this high need and joined together with a goal of feeding 1,000 children in the neighborhood this summer. The Colfax Community Network (CCN) is an organization that advocates for children and families living in the area by providing information, services and programs to strengthen and improve family and community life.

Laotian Farmer Becomes National Voice for N.C. Hmong Community

It’s not a pleasant memory for Maykia Yang. Fleeing on foot from her native home of Laos at age eight and following her family to Thailand where she spent two years in a refugee camp.

“My father was a soldier and worked for the CIA during the [Vietnam] war. After the CIA pulled out, the Vietnamese took over Laos and we fled on foot for about a month,” said Yang, who now owns a chicken farm in North Carolina.

Bringing the Beauty of U.S. Hardwood to Thailand

When most people think about what USDA exports to countries all over the world, food is the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that the United States exported nearly $7 billion in forestry products in 2010? These exports allow for the beauty and sustainability of U.S. forests to be shared through home furnishings in every corner of the world, including Thailand.

The United States is currently the fourth largest exporter of hardwood lumber to Thailand, following Malaysia, Laos and Myanmar, and U.S. exports were valued at $21.3 million in 2010. In 2010, the total Thailand furniture export market was valued at nearly $1.2 billion out of which $589 million was wooden furniture. The market is ripe for U.S. hardwood as Thai furniture exporters and manufacturers are required to follow sustainable development policies. Importing products from the United States helps the country avoid the use of illegal forestry techniques and timber sources.