Ruth Correll: Agriculture is vital to our economy

Ruth Correll • Updated Jul 12, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Farmers and ranchers have a vital role in the U.S. economy by ensuring a safe and reliable food supply and supporting job growth and economic development. Agriculture is particularly important to the economies of small towns and rural areas, where farming supports a number of sectors, from farm machinery manufacturers to food processing companies” as stated in a 2013 report by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.

“Because of the increasing agricultural productivity, access to world markets are critical to the agricultural industry.” According to the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Agriculture, “95 percent of the world’s potential consumers live outside of the United States, and population growth in the decades ahead will be concentrated in developing countries. As these countries grow and their citizens’ incomes rise, their demand for meat, dairy and other agricultural products will increase.”

The United States is the world’s leading exporter of agricultural products. At $141.3 billion, agricultural exports made up 10 percent of U.S. exports in 2012. Since 1960, the United States has posted a trade surplus in agriculture. Capturing a growing share of the world market for agricultural products will benefit the entire U.S. economy at the national, state and local levels. Agricultural exports currently support nearly one million jobs across the country. 

A successful agricultural sector supports economic growth overall. By producing a wide variety of foods inexpensively, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products, America’s farmers and ranchers ensure a safe and reliable domestic food supply. 

A healthy farm economy is especially important to small towns and rural areas. Farmers and ranchers invest in their operations, supporting jobs in farm machinery manufacturing and other industries, and they purchase goods and services from local businesses. High levels of farm production improve the prospects for supporting businesses such as food processing companies. Businesses up and down the agricultural product supply chain have benefited in recent years as a result of the strong agricultural economy. There has been an increase in sales of organic, specialty and bio-based products, as well as a recent expansion of agritourism, all contributing to this economic success.

Again according to the USDA, there have been significant changes over the past two decades in the top markets for U.S. agricultural exports. “Twenty years ago, just one percent of U.S. agricultural export sales went to China, and this share had only increased to four percent by 2002. By 2012, China was the top destination for U.S. agricultural exports, purchasing over $25 billion in products and accounting for over 18 percent of sales.”

Rounding out the top five export destinations in 2012 were Canada, Mexico, Japan and the European Union. Japan, which was the top destination for U.S. agricultural exports, has seen its share drop from about 20 percent in 1992 to under 10 percent in 2012.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, “there are challenges that could keep the United States from taking advantage of export opportunities. These challenges include uncertainty about long-term farm policy, possible trade barriers imposed by foreign countries, the issues of income and expenses and regulations that face small and beginning farmers, ranchers and processors and uncertainty in the agricultural workforce resulting from an unsettled immigration policy.”

Bottom line, the agricultural sector makes an important contribution to the U.S. economy, by promoting food and supporting jobs in communities across the country. Exports are critical to the success of U.S. agriculture and population and income growth in developing countries ensures that this will continue to be the case in the many years to come. U.S. agricultural exporters are well positioned to capture a significant share of the growing world market for agricultural products if challenges can be overcome. 

I agree with this quote from Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute; “Agriculture is not crop production as popular belief holds – it’s the production of food and fiber from the world’s land and waters. Without agriculture it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy.”

For more information, contact the UT-TSU Extension Office in Wilson County at 615-444-9584. You can also find us on Facebook or visit extension.tennessee.edu/wilson. Ruth Correll, UT Extension-TSU Cooperative Extension agent in Wilson County, may be reached at 615-444-9584 or [email protected]


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