By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana Director of USDA Rural Development
May is World Trade Month; a time set aside to acknowledge and reflect on the importance of global trade. At USDA, every month is “Trade Month” because few industries depend more upon – and benefit more from – trade than American agriculture.
It’s not an understatement to say that the gains from trade are powerful. When American farmers are financially healthy, they not only support themselves and their families, but also their employees, local equipment dealers, farm service suppliers, and the rural communities where they live and do business.
In 2016, Louisiana was the 9th largest state exporter of goods grossing $48.4 billion in exports. An estimated 155 thousand jobs were supported by exported goods in 2015. Louisiana exports of agricultural products supported roughly an estimated 15 thousand jobs in 2013 (latest data available), both on and off the farm. These products supported roughly an estimated 15 thousand jobs in 2013. The top three exports are sugar cane, soybeans, and rice.
Our farmers’ incomes are driven largely by the market prices received for the crops and livestock they sell. Support is needed to keep the farm sector viable and to expand demand for U.S. grown farm and food products – and that means expanding exports. Without export markets, U.S. agriculture would have larger domestic supplies, lower prices and reduced production, resulting in diminished rural economic activity.
USDA promotes trade in many ways. Through the USDA Rural Development Business and Industry Program (B&I), opportunities are available to help businesses with ag related projects. For example, Game Equipment, a producer of custom-built farm equipment, based in Napoleonville, was ready to expand to strengthen its operation. Game received a $3.2 million Business and Cooperative loan guarantee to renovate their current factory, construct a new manufacturing building, and purchase equipment to save and create jobs. Game’s equipment is for the pineapple and sugar cane industry and they export worldwide to markets in South America, Africa, Hawaii, and Asia. Some of the largest agriculture companies in the world depend on their machinery and service.
USDA is helping to focus attention on the multiple ways in which we can help build more vibrant communities and improve the livelihoods of those that are employed by agriculture or own agribusinesses. Various business models exist that can help support Louisiana agriculture and rural communities. Cooperatives are a versatile business model that can address many needs, such as local food production, utility services (including water, electricity and broadband), and can help convert existing businesses to worker ownership.
USDA fosters and supports cooperative development by providing professional technical assistance, co-op education, research materials, forging partnerships, and helping to secure funding for projects in underserved areas to empower local communities. They also create jobs, marketing opportunities, and encouraging community engagement.
Simply put, the benefits of agricultural trade reach far beyond our farms, ranches and rural communities. That’s a point worth remembering not just during World Trade Month, but every month.
I look forward to working with you to keep the farming sector viable and many other opportunities for rural Louisiana to prosper in the days to come. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (318) 473-7921