Despite challenges, experts see a path forward to enhance agricultural trade for the U.S.; and Virginia’s farmers have a stake in the health of that global commerce stream.
The Virginia Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade welcomed an international roster of guests to Richmond March 10 and 11. The 12th annual conference was sponsored in part by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
Stephen Censky, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy secretary of agriculture, credited recent trade agreements, technological innovations and rural prosperity efforts for his optimistic outlook.
“It’s been a turbulent time on the agricultural trade front, but I’m optimistic about the future,” Censky said. “There’s a bright outlook.”
He said that the U.S. poultry, egg and dairy industries are expected to see a boost from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Tariffs were reduced or eliminated on 90% of exported goods to Japan, where Censky predicts a jump in imports of U.S. beef, pork, grains and dairy products. The China Phase 1 trade deal is an important step forward, as China has committed to purchase about $40 billion in U.S. agricultural products this year — a leap compared to $24 billion in 2017.
Agricultural innovations can address two looming challenges — how to feed a rapidly growing world population while simultaneously reducing agriculture’s footprint on the planet. A recent USDA Agricultural Innovation Agenda aims to increase agricultural production 40% and cut the carbon footprint in half.
“More production on less acreage” is how that goal will be met, Censky explained.
The USDA Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity is expected to benefit agricultural producers through workforce development and access to broadband internet.
“If you’re from Virginia, you know how important rural prosperity is,” Censky said. “We think having access to broadband can be just as transformative.”
Dr. Robert Johansson, USDA chief economist, said U.S. agricultural exports are projected to reach $189 billion by fiscal year 2029.
He offered in-depth perspective on the feasibility of China’s import commitments, and added, “One big caveat is how coronavirus plays out in the next couple of quarters.”
Johansson said planted acreage should rebound significantly in 2020. And he announced farm bankruptcies are at a historic low—three out of 10,000 farms are filing for bankruptcy, compared to 25 per 10,000 farms during the 1980s farm crisis.