Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke May 26 before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry:

“Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss U.S. agriculture and the next farm bill.

“Many folks don’t recognize it, but America’s farmers and our agriculture industry are responsible in no small way for the health and strength of this nation. Not only do we rely on American agriculture for our food, feed, fiber, and fuel, our agricultural producers preserve our environment, and help drive our national economy.

“Agriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in America. And while many sectors of our economy are running trade deficits, American agriculture has enjoyed a trade surplus for nearly 50 years. This year we expect a record surplus and record agricultural exports should help support more than 1 million jobs across the nation.

“What’s more, the incredible productivity of America’s farmers and ranchers makes us more prosperous. American families spend only about 6 or 7 cents out of every dollar on food — less than in almost any other nation. That means we spend more on a nice home, save for retirement, or fund our children’s college education.

“And America’s farmers have taken extraordinary steps to take care of our nation’s natural resources. In the last 30 years alone, USDA has worked to help producers reduce soil erosion by more than 40 percent and agriculture has gone from being the leading cause of wetland loss to leading the entire nation in wetland restoration efforts. Our farms act as carbon sinks, mitigating the impact of global warming. Farm lands, pasture, and forests help clean the water we drink and the air we breathe.

“But America’s farmers — as the Chairwoman has noted in her invitation to this hearing — also have a role in feeding a growing world population. They do this not only through historic productivity and record exports, but through the development and embrace of new research, and innovative practices, technologies and institutional structures that can be shared with the rest of the world.

“At USDA, we support farmers in both their domestic responsibilities and international role. Additionally, the Department seeks to conserve the nations national resources, build thriving rural communities, and ensure that every American has access to healthy, safe, affordable food.

“So as you prepare to write a new farm bill, you will have to discuss how USDA continues to support these various goals. At the same time, there will be considerable external pressures on that process: fiscal and political realities about the size of the debt, the deficit, and the tight budget environment they have inspired.