The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to shift farm export expansion efforts from a “one-size-fits-all” approach based on world geographic regions to strategies tailored to specific market needs.

“To expand trade globally I think we have to think differently about trade,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told 4,300 corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum growers at the 2010 Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif.

The new farm export direction runs parallel to President Obama’s National Export Initiative to coordinate federal efforts to rebuild the economy by expanding export opportunities.

While the secretary voiced continued support for free trade agreements and the ongoing Doha trade talks, he says more effort is needed.

“We have to realize that not every country we discuss trade with is in the same (trading) position,” Vilsack said.

The new USDA approach will include “different strategies for different markets” and short-term versus long-term market development. The strategies will differ for “fragile states” including Afghanistan which is building a more stable economy. USDA would push the “American brand” in small countries with more immediate market potential.

“We need to put resources into those countries that allow them to understand the significance and importance of the quality of the American brand regardless of the commodity we are trading,” Vilsack said.

Essential to U.S. farm export growth is countering positions by countries which “implicitly or explicitly” create barriers to American trade.

Vilsack says the U.S. must work harder to create the technical expertise to tear down barriers and build a distribution system to create a domestic incentive for trade with America.

“We continue to work with technical experience and expertise to break down sanitary and phytosanitary barriers being constructed in emerging, high-growth potential areas (including China).”

Obama has a goal to double U.S. trade opportunities over the next five years. While the secretary called the aspiration a “tall task,” he says U.S. agricultural trade has grown from about $50 billion a decade ago to about $100 billion today, the second highest amount on record.

Vilsack also thanked U.S. farmers and ranchers for their service. He noted these rural advancements: Producers grow 108 billion pounds of protein annually; American agriculture generates one out of every 12 jobs; and less than 10 percent of a U.S. family’s annual disposable income on average is spent on food.

“I believe rural America is the heart and the soul and the guts of America,” Vilsack said. He equated farmers and ranchers to gold medal Olympians.

“You would think there would be gold medals for all of you; that we would have ticker-tape parades for farmers,” he said. “You’d think there would be a Hall of Fame for the 2.2 million of you that produce our food, fiber, fuel and feed.”

The USDA chief expressed concern over the aging American farm and ranch population, noting a 30 percent increase in farmers over the age of 75 and a 20 percent decrease in farmers under age 25.

One solution for expanding agriculture to feed the growing world population, he says, is the expansion and better acceptance of biotechnology.

“The reality in the world today is the population continues to grow and the amount of land available to raise food, fiber, and fuel continues to shrink as communities expand and develop around the world,” he said.

“We have to use science in a significant and important way to increase productivity. Biotechnology has that opportunity.”

To see a video of Vilsack’s visit to Commodity Classic click here.

email: cblake@farmpress.com