“USDA has expanded markets for American goods abroad for decades, working aggressively to break down trade barriers with our global partners. At home we're reaching out to producers and enterprises of all sizes with information about how they can get into the export game, how they may be able to export their goods, and how they can make the financing to make it work. And these efforts have had a real impact.

“Over the past five years, U.S. agricultural producers have doubled the total value of their exports; and this year will be the best year we've ever had for American exports.  They'll top $137 billion, $20 billion more than last year. This will allow us to have a record trade surplus in agricultural production and products of $42 billion; and this will support, as importantly, nearly a million jobs.

“Just last week, to help build on this success story, President Obama signed trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.  And this is going to add an additional $2.3 billion of agricultural exports for a range of products.

“Every additional billion dollars of agricultural sales helps to generate 8400 jobs at home.  So it not only helps improve the bottom lines for farmers and ranchers, but it also puts people to work. Congress can continue this success story and build on it with continued investments in USDA's trade promotion programs, which studies have shown return a — $31 for every dollar we invest return on investment.

“Frankly, folks, the American brand of agriculture is the envy of the world.  We need to make sure that it always remains that way. Now, at the same time we look to expand opportunities here at home for producers, we also have to look at folks and opportunities for ways in which producers can access local and regional markets.

“Local food is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture. In the past decade direct consumer sales have doubled.  Making connections so that a farmer can sell at a local school or hospital, or even a neighbor down the road, creates good-paying jobs in our rural communities and keeps the wealth created from the ground close to home.

“Congress should continue the work that was started in 2008 to support our specialty crop producers with improved risk management tools and expanded market promotion.

“Now, this is more than just a farm bill. It also deals with nutrition.  That's why farmers aren't the only ones that need a safety net.  In a tough economy, families that struggle through tough times and seniors living on fixed income may also need help as well.  That's why we have the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Today, through that program, which we commonly refer to as SNAP, 44 million low-income Americans can put healthy, nutritious food on the table. That number's coming down from an all-time high earlier this year as more Americans are finding  work with the creation of nearly 2 million private- sector jobs over the last 19 months.

 “For many families SNAP is a bridge to self-sufficiency.  In fact, you may be surprised to know that half of all new SNAP participants leave the program within eight months.  To many Americans, they have an incomplete picture of who actually receives these SNAP benefits and who's benefiting from them.

“I suspect virtually everyone in this audience probably knows someone at some point in time who's a beneficiary of this program. Now, over the last 20 years that program has transitioned from a welfare program to one that is primarily utilized by working families and seniors. Children of those working families are nearly half of all of the SNAP beneficiaries, and the elderly make up nearly 8 percent. At the same time, only 8 percent of SNAP beneficiaries are those who receive cash welfare. 

“In other words, 92 percent do not. That's not what most people in America think. So we've got to continue to impress upon Americans the importance of this program, but we also have the responsibility to strengthen it.