USDA Holds 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum

USDA held its 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum this week in Arlington, Virginia (and was attended by ASDWA staff).  The title of this year’s forum was “Managing Risk in the 21st Century.”  The opening session speakers included USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber, USDA Secretary Vilsack, and Former Senator Tom Daschle.  Following are some of the key points from their presentations that should be of interest to state drinking water programs.

Joseph Glauber, USDA’s Chief Economist, spoke about the trending production and sale of U.S. crops.  He noted that U.S. crop exports and the agricultural economy are at record highs with a low debt ratio, though there is a sharp difference between types of crops being produced.  He projected that this year’s crop production is expected to increase from last year’s numbers, when we experienced extreme drought in many areas of the country.   He also projected that the use of gasoline in the U.S. will decrease, based on cars being more fuel efficient and noted that the production of ethanol experienced a slight decline last year for the first time since 2006.  In addition, the most significant change in the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) occurred in North Dakota, Montana, and some areas south of these two states where they saw a decrease in CRP enrolled acres; while other areas of the U.S. have shown slight increases or remained consistent with the previous year.

Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary of Agriculture, highlighted the uncertainty of the Federal budget and a new Farm Bill as factors that may seriously affect the future of USDA’s programs.  He noted that the Department is focused on managing risk from both the likelihood of budget cuts and weather-related events such as drought that will affect its ability to provide financial security and disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers.  He also noted that half a million producers are engaged in conservation, which is a record high.  USDA is looking at barriers and insurance considerations for increasing conservation.  The Department is providing assistance to producers for using no-till, double cropping, cover crops, and other practices to decrease the use of nitrogen and increase crop yields; providing Conservation Innovation Grants to help farmers use new technologies and approaches to address natural resource concerns; and working with farmers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve water-use efficiency measures for growing more crops with less water.  In addition, Vilsack shared the Department’s intentions to implement the goals of its Climate Change Adaptation plan including:  working with partners to develop a web portal on climate and weather; develop a U.S. Forest Service management plan; develop a roadmap for farmers and ranchers to reduce risk; improve outreach; and support research.

Former Senator Tom Daschle shared his thoughts about national and global food security, and its links to energy and economic security, as populations and food demand continue to rise rapidly.  He highlighted the need for global solutions, private sector development, new technologies and innovation, and bio-engineered crops to sustain food supplies and nutrition.  In addition, Daschle noted the need for precision farming solutions such as efficient fertilizer use and water conservation, as well as the need to connect people with their food — where it comes from and how it is produced.

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