Representatives from across U.S. agriculture have descended on Washington, D.C. this week to celebrate National Ag Day today, March 19.
Events kicked off Monday with a panel discussion called Farm to Fork Politics: An insider's look at the year ahead for food and agriculture. Panelists included J.B. Penn, chief economist at Deere & Company; B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, National Restaurant Association; and Keith Collins, former chief economist, USDA, and current advisor for National Crop Insurance Services. The panel was moderated by Sara Wyant, president of Agri-Pulse Communications.
Penn noted that 2007 marked the first year that more than half the world's population lived in urban areas; he predicted that number will be 70% by 2050. He added the growing population places demands on world food production and has created regional competition; higher land prices and crumbling infrastructure in North America (or more specifically, the U.S.) will make it difficult to compete, he added.
Riehle shared that the restaurant industry expects to do $660 billion in business in 2013, which is a 3.8% increase over 2012 and represents the fourth consecutive year of growth for the industry. He adds that the takeaway is that clearly, restaurant use is tied to personal disposable income. Riehle adds that half of all food dollars are spent away from home in the U.S. today, compared to just 25% in 1955. In addition, 90% of Americans report they enjoy going to restaurants. "And Americans can't agree on anything!" he noted.
Collins turned his comments to the Farm Bill, stating that he expects a smaller Farm Bill but one that promotes crop insurance. He also noted the drop in export market share but doesn't feel it's detrimental to agriculture. "Can agriculture prosper when we're losing market share? I think so. Net farm income has been up for the past three years. The decline is not a bad thing." Collins reflected.
Panelists also briefly turned their attention to infrastructure, and Penn was quick to note there is simply no money in Washington these days.
"There are more good projects than there is funding, and lawmakers have to look for projects that give the greatest dividend to the American people," Penn said. "And there are lots of those."
"It's important for agriculture to make its case that we make a difference in the trade balance," Penn said, adding that the economic argument will hold the most sway in Washington these days.
Ag Day events will continue throughout Tuesday, as the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance hosts a briefing on the new language of food and modern agriculture. A luncheon will feature Orion Samuelson and the Outstanding Young Farmer honorees, and the day will wrap up with a banquet hosted by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and 2011 Miss America Teresa Scanlan, with special honors for the winners of the Ag Day essay, video essay and poster contests.