Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke today on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis about the importance of sustaining the record-breaking productivity of America's farmers and ranchers.

From the waterway that handles two-thirds of the nation's grain traffic — much of it destined for export markets around the world — Vilsack encouraged an audience of agriculture leaders from Missouri to focus on trade opportunities outside of our borders, as 95 percent of consumers live in foreign countries.

Vilsack pointed to the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, which needs congressional ratification, as a means of sustaining the growth of the U.S. agriculture sector. Strong trade will be a key contributor to building an economy that continues to grow, innovate and out-compete the rest of the world.

"Within 500 miles of St. Louis, farmers are producing more than three quarters of the nation's corn and soybean crops, injecting $75 billion into the global economy and supporting 265,000 jobs for this region," said Vilsack. "At the heart of the nation's farm economy, St. Louis and this region are pumping life into the national economy. Farm exports alone will support more than one million jobs in America this year. And every dollar in exports generates another $1.31 in economic activity. Congress can help U.S. farmers and ranchers sustain their record growth by passing smart trade deals like the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, which will increase exports and support job creation here at home."

Intended to double U.S. exports

President Obama's National Export Initiative (NEI), a program intended to coordinate federal efforts to double U.S. exports by 2014 and create several million new jobs, is providing support to businesses big and small to reach more of the world's consumers, said Vilsack. Some of the world's most noteworthy agribusinesses call St. Louis home, employing 20 percent of the workforce within a 500-mile radius of the city. On-farm employment represents just one-tenth of all agriculture-related employment, as opportunities in research, education, food processing, and trade are abundant in the area. At the same time, Missouri farm exports have doubled in value over the past five years, giving farm income and on-farm jobs a boost.

Vilsack pointed out that economic output is estimated to grow more under U.S.-Korea agreement than from the United States' last nine trade agreements combined. That type of growth would bring additional jobs to agriculture-focused areas like the ports and infrastructure along the Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to New Orleans, said Vilsack. USDA recently reported that grain barge traffic on the Mississippi near St. Louis was up 126 percent over last year.

Vilsack discussed how the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, which needs congressional ratification, will add tens of thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy, especially in major agriculture-producing states like Missouri. The U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement would eliminate tariffs on a variety of American goods — including agricultural products like soybeans, feed grains and beef — while adding tens of thousands of jobs to our economy.

Exports of U.S. farm goods in fiscal year 2011 (Oct. 1, 2010 — Sept. 30, 2011) are projected to surpass previous records by $20 billion. The agricultural trade balance — a balance of U.S. exports versus foreign imports — is also projected to set a record surplus of $47.5 billion in 2011. In his remarks, Vilsack noted that every $1 billion in farm exports supports roughly 8,400 jobs in the United States.