Ed. Note: This piece has been cross-posted from the blog of the USDA
This has been an important week for the White House Rural Council – a partnership between multiple Federal agencies, created by President Obama last year to focus and coordinate our efforts to create jobs in rural America and support American agriculture.
We marked the one-year anniversary of the Council on June 11; and on the same day, the Rural Council released a report alongside the White House Council of Economic Advisors and USDA that notes significant progress in our efforts to grow the rural economy. But President Obama and I also know that there’s more to be done.
Over the past three years, the rural economy has strengthened. Last year, U.S. farm sector income reached a nominal record of $98.1 billion and record agricultural exports supported nearly a $43 billion trade surplus and 1.15 million American jobs.
But this week’s report also reflected a strong belief I share with President Obama – that while progress has been made, we still have a great deal of work to do. It’s not time to let up.
Together, we’re working to further broaden markets for U.S. agriculture products. On top of the new trade agreements signed by the President last year with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – expected to boost exports by $2.3 billion per year – the Administration is working to further expand markets for U.S. agriculture products.
Here at home, the Administration has carried out an all-of-the-above energy approach to help Americans reduce pain at the pump as well as their home energy costs. Since 2009 we have nearly doubled wind energy capacity in the U.S. and helped to support 230 new bioenergy projects – but there is still more to be done. As part of his to-do list for Congress, President Obama is urging Congress to pass the Production Tax Credit, which will help renewable energy companies create jobs here at home.
Finally, while the report outlines our investments so far in communities across rural America – more than 6,250 new community facilities, grants and loans for more than 50,000 rural businesses, and upgraded water, electric and broadband utilities for millions – the Administration is working to further strengthen these investments.
Just this week, President Obama announced an additional $2 billion in funding through the Small Business Administration to help generate business loans across rural America. These loans, which will be paid back at no cost to the taxpayer, will help rural businesses continue creating jobs.
As we look back over the past three years, at USDA we’re proud of our accomplishments on behalf of rural America – but we’re not letting up. This week’s report is a reminder that we have come a long way. But we have much more to do on behalf of our small towns and rural communities, and I know that through our shared commitment to rural America, even greater progress is yet to come.
An audio version of this week’s column can be found here.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture.