Official says American agriculture helping lead economic recovery

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Carly Flandro

Agriculture in the United States continues to be on track for its best export year ever in 2011, Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture, told a crowd at the Strand Union Building Saturday.

"American agriculture is helping to lead the nation's recovery," she said. "We forecast a strong performance in the agricultural sector in 2011."

Merrigan was the keynote speaker at a small business workshop that focused on agriculture and was sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Merrigan, who oversees many of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's programs, spoke Saturday about the national role of farmers and ranchers.

"The average farmer feeds 155 people," she said. "When agriculture benefits and rural America benefits, society benefits."

She also discussed challenges facing the industry, such as the aging of the American farmer. She said the USDA is working to encourage the next generation to step up to the "challenges and opportunities of the 21st century."

Merrigan attended several workshops Saturday, too, and said she was "hearing a lot of optimism" from local farmers.

Tester, the only active farmer in the U.S. Senate, said the workshop was about "folks exploring ideas and taking them home."

"Hopefully success will come out of this," he told the audience. "Hopefully when you are out in the field you'll think back to an idea you heard here."

Walt Sales, president of the Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators, said he appreciated Tester bringing the workshop to Bozeman and said it was "a great opportunity to express concerns."

Those leading workshops included Christian Mackay, executive officer of the Montana Department of Livestock and Ron de Yong, director of the Montana Department of Agriculture. Workshop topics included "Risk management and financing the farm," "Getting more from the acre" and "Getting more from the pound."