US Farm Exports May Set Record in 2011

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Two thousand ten was a good year for American farmers. They earned an estimated eighty-two billion dollars. That is almost one-third more than they earned last year. And it is twenty-six percent higher than the ten-year average.

The numbers are from the Economic Research Service at the Department of Agriculture. They represent net farm income, a measure of profitability of farm operations.

Values for grain and oilseed crops are up about three percent from last year. The value of animal production is up by almost seven percent.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack points out that agriculture is one of the few major areas of the economy with a trade surplus. A surplus of forty-one billion dollars is predicted in twenty-eleven. That would be an increase of almost eighteen billion dollars from this year.

At the same time, farm exports are expected to break the all-time high set in two thousand eight. The Agriculture Department says exports in this coming year could top one hundred twenty-six billion dollars.

The largest buyer of agricultural products is expected to be Canada. But farm exports to China are predicted to come within five hundred million dollars of Canadian purchases.

Secretary Vilsack says countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are also buying more from American farmers.

Poor growing conditions overseas played an important part in higher prices for American crops this year.

Charlotte Hebebrand is chief executive of the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council in Washington. She says drought conditions had a big effect over the summer.

CHARLOTTE HEBEBRAND: "There were severe weather problems, not just in Russia but also in some of the other former Soviet Union countries."

Wheat prices rose after Russia halted wheat exports, although Russia later eased the ban.

Wheat used to be America's top crop, says economist Charlotte Hebebrand.

CHARLOTTE HEBEBRAND: "What's interesting, though, is that wheat production has actually declined over the past few years because corn has become the most popular crop."

Corn, or maize, is mostly fed to animals or made into ethanol fuel and high-fructose corn syrup. But Ms. Hebebrand says with the recent increase in wheat prices, American farmers might plant more wheat again.

Corn and wheat are the two largest crops supported by the government through subsidy payments.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. You can find transcripts and MP3s of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Jim Tedder.

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