Maze of policy, trade issues confront agriculture

The new farm bill “rewrote the rules” for helping U.S. growers to mitigate risks, says Deputy Secretary of Agriculture James Moseley, but the bottom line is that they continue to be “affected by forces beyond their control.”

These include increased costs of production, overseas issues involving policy and trade, changing consumer demands, drought and other adverse weather, and continuing consolidations of agribusiness companies, he told the near 1,400 U.S. and foreign attendees who braved the worst snowfall in decades, airline snafus, and other problems to participate in the 79th USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum at Washington, D.C.

Producers face “daunting tasks” in keeping up with and contending with the rapid changes taking place in the agricultural sector, he says.

“There's no question U.S. farmers are the most efficient in the world,” Moseley says, but they are confronted with an array of problems, including economic uncertainties in the United States and globally, challenges arising out of the 9/11 attack in terms of insuring a safe food supply, and dealing with bioterrorism concerns.

And as countries around the world become more capable at producing food, farmers face even great competitive pressures, “fighting for our export markets.”

Last year's major concerns in agriculture centered around the lengthy development of the new farm bill and then moving forward as expeditiously as possible with its implementation, Moseley says.

In addition to providing an improved safety net for producers, he notes, the bill had some new features, including a conservation section and “a new opportunity for energy production.”

U.S. agriculture still must confront “a difficult maze” of agricultural policy issues and multilateral trade negotiations, Moseley says, with many challenges remaining in trying to determine “where agriculture is headed and what the role will be for each of us in helping to meet the needs of all the people.”

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