Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said that farm income and agricultural exports should stay strong in 2004, and consumer prices are expected to remain steady.
"We expect farm income and exports to remain strong into 2004," Veneman said today during remarks at the Farm Journal Forum. "Consumer prices are expected to remain steady so food prices should continue to be a good bargain for the Nation's consumers."
During her remarks to an audience of food and agriculture leaders, Secretary Veneman said that net cash farm income in 2003 will be at a record high, rebounding sharply from 2002 and above long-term averages. Net cash farm income is forecast to be $65 billion, up 33 percent over 2002, she said.
"Part of the improvement is due to brighter export prospects," Veneman said. "Exports for 2003 are estimated at about $56.2 billion, while the level of agricultural exports for 2004 is forecast at $59.5 billion. This is just short of the all-time record of $60 billion set in 1996."
"The demand for farm products is being spurred by the President's tax cuts, low interest rates and inflation, and a decline in the value of the dollar," Veneman said. "Expanding payrolls and declining unemployment in the coming year are expected to further accelerate food demand."
During her speech, Secretary Veneman also highlighted key agricultural issues being addressed by the Bush Administration, including:
· Passage of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. "The President's Healthy Forests Initiative and the supporting legislation will improve our ability to make our Nation's forests less vulnerable to catastrophic fires," Veneman said. "Just as USDA helps farmers and ranchers be better stewards of their land, the Healthy Forests Initiative will give us new tools to better manage lands that are under federal ownership." Veneman added that USDA and the Department of the Interior treated a record 2.6 million acres of hazardous fuels and funded 1,200 community fire plans while maintaining a wild land firefighting workforce of nearly 18,000 personnel.
· Timely and efficient implementation of the 2002 Farm Bill. "Timely and efficient implementation of the 2002 Farm Bill has been a contributing factor to the brighter income picture. Government payments will total about $19.7 billion in 2003," Veneman said. "USDA has implemented all the major commodity program provisions under the farm bill and we did it in conjunction with implementing major disaster relief."
· Helped the Nation meet energy needs. "The Bush Administration has invested $21 million in grants for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Improvement Programs and $45 million in bio-based and bio-energy-related businesses," Veneman said. "Our efforts at helping farmers and ranchers meet more of their own energy needs, and those of our Nation, will be greatly assisted if congress passes the pending Energy Bill."
· Enhanced meat and poultry safety. "In July, we released a food safety vision document that outlines key steps to improve food safety and protect the public health," Veneman said. "This includes a research agenda that prioritizes needs to maximize available resources, strategies to improve workforce training, streamlined implementation of technology, identification of best management practices and risk analysis coordination. Veneman added this approach has contributed to a major reduction in foodborne pathogens, including a 66 percent reduction over the past six years in the rate of Salmonella in raw poultry meat; a 70 percent reduction in samples that test positive for Listeria and continued reduction in E. coli O157:H7.
· Address growing pubic health issues of obesity. "Inaction is not an option and USDA is a key participant in the President's HealthierUS Initiative," Veneman said. "USDA produces valuable research on nutrition, foods, consumer trends and behaviors. USDA's nutrition program touch the lives of one in six American every day. Through these programs, we provide nutrition education to key audiences." Veneman noted that USDA is working with the Department of Health and Human Services on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the advisory committee that is reviewing them. Review of the Food Guide Pyramid is also underway.
· Aggressively responded to the single case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in Canada. "In the coming year, we will continue to work with the World Organization for Animal Health to ensure that there is a consistent international response to potential future cases of BSE," Veneman said. "We want to ensure that the best and most recent scientific information underpins all our regulations."
· Hosted a Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Science and Technology to focus on the use of agricultural technology in reducing global hunger. "We identified priorities for guiding the use of resources and partnerships in key areas," Veneman said. "These include making research and technology more accessible to farmers, expanding the local knowledge base around the world, promoting partnerships and facilitating the benefits of technology through supportive policies."
· Working to expand markets for American agriculture. "The World Trade Organization negotiations continue in Geneva, despite our inability to reach consensus on a ministerial communiqué in Cancun, Mexico," Veneman said. "We stand ready to negotiate an aggressive WTO agreement." Veneman said the Administration has also announced intentions to pursue several free trade initiatives including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama. The Administration is also continuing work on creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas and plans to conclude the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by the end of the year in addition to accelerating negotiations with the Dominican Republic with intentions to join it with the CAFTA next year. The Administration continues discussions on the WTO negotiations for aggressive reform in agricultural trade rules.
· Received first ever USDA clean audit as part of the President's Management Agenda. "This is an important reflection of the level of service we provide to American agriculture, our accountability with taxpayer funds and our efficiency," Veneman said.
· Promoting 'E Government.' "Agriculture is an enterprise that is constantly evolving, and I want USDA to have the kind of expertise that will help make us more responsive with the programs and services we provide," Veneman said. "We are working to better integrate and coordinate information and to make our technology as friendly as possible for end users, whether they be farmers, consumers or our employees."
For a complete transcript of Secretary Veneman's speech and complete information on USDA program accomplishments, visit www.usda.gov/.