Make us your home page

Agriculture secretary touts Florida's role in farm exports

Global food prices jumped 25 percent last year and set a record last month. Pressure is rising to cut costs throughout the federal bureaucracy. And worries abound over global competition with China and other emerging markets.

What's U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's assessment of those troubling scenarios? Things are much better than they seem.

Food prices in the United States will go up a modest 3 to 4 percent, he predicts, in part catching up for recent years of little increase or even a slight drop. His department hopes to appease deficit hawks with more cuts in farm subsidies. And as far as agriculture is concerned, the trade scenario looks downright rosy thanks in no small part to China.

Last year, the country exported $115 billion worth of agricultural goods, the best year ever, with Florida accounting for $3.9 billion of the total, up 8 percent from a year ago and up 49 percent over the past five years. This year, he predicts national exports will reach $135 billion.

"So we're increasing exports by about $20 billion. Every billion dollars of agriculture sales generates about 8,000 jobs in addition to improving farmers' income. … That's a lot of jobs," said Vilsack, who will be visiting Tampa Friday for a major agriculture trade show.

With the ports in Tampa and Miami handling more than $3 billion in agricultural goods in 2010, Agriculture Department officials say Florida is a critical leverage point for the Southeast's agricultural trade.

Top Florida agricultural exports are fruits and vegetables. But the laundry list Florida's exported commodities ranges from cotton, rubber and tobacco to cheese, wine and tea.

"One out of every 12 jobs is agriculture-related," Vilsack said. "Certainly, it's an important component of Florida's economy."

In advance of his trip, Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and briefly a 2008 presidential candidate, spoke with the St. Petersburg Times on a range of topics.

For one, Vilsack said the chilled relationship between the Obama administration and new Florida Gov. Rick Scott hasn't affected agriculture relations.

The governor may be rejecting federal funds for high-speed rail and certain health care and unemployment dollars, but Scott is still accepting federal aid for research into citrus greening disease (about $25 million a year) and to help counties affected by adverse weather. Direct farm loans, business industrial loans and funding for water projects continue to flow into Florida as well.

"To my knowledge, the governor hasn't asked for any of them to be rescinded or stopped," Vilsack said.

Among other thoughts:

• Food prices — Farmers are expected to plant more acres of corn this year as well as put more seed per acre to capitalize on stronger prices. Assuming an average weather year — which he hesitates to assume — there should be higher yields to keep prices in check.

• Biofuels — "It's not a well-understood issue," he says. Many assume biofuels are necessarily tied to corn. But increasingly his department is working with producers in Florida and other states on bio-refineries that can create alternative fuel from woody biomass, crop residue and even landfill waste.

Tampa trip

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is giving the keynote address Friday to more than 4,500 farmers attending the 16th annual Commodity Classic in Tampa. The classic is a major convention and trade show for the corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum industries. Organizers anticipate more than 900 booths showcasing the latest agricultural products, technology and services from more than 20 businesses.

By the numbers


Total Florida agriculture exports in 2005


Total Florida agriculture exports in 2010


Florida fresh fruit exports last year


Other Fla. vegetable, fruit exports last year


U.S. agriculture exports in 2010

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture secretary touts Florida's role in farm exports 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 10:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.