January 9, 2011 in City

Expert sees farm exports rising

David Lester Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA – A former U.S. agriculture secretary predicts the growing global awareness of the need for better nutrition will help bolster exports of American farm products.

Ed Schafer, who headed the huge department during the last year of the George W. Bush administration, said governments are responding by making trade easier.

“There’s a huge opportunity for agriculture,” the former two-term North Dakota governor and entrepreneur said following a speech Friday to open the Ag Expo at the Yakima Valley SunDome. “Agriculture in my opinion will emerge as a strength of the United States. There’s a crying need out there.”

Amid remarks punctuated by his personal philosophy about government’s role and that of farmers and ranchers, Schafer pointed to statistics that a billion people worldwide suffer malnutrition. In addition, 5 million children die each year from too little to eat.

The answer to meeting those needs, he added, lies with the American farmer.

Schafer, 64, holds a place of special significance for the Yakima Valley’s diverse agricultural base – nearly all of which are considered minor crops on the national landscape.

Schafer led the agency in implementing the current farm bill that for the first time contained provisions dealing with minor crops, primarily funding for research.

He said the funding was a recognition of the value of fruits and vegetables in the diets of schoolchildren.

On a more philosophical level, Schafer said rural America is important to the country, not only for the food it produces but also for its values of hard work, self-reliance, honesty and a sense of community.

The country needs to restore faith in the individual who takes the economic risk to become successful, because those are the people who create jobs, not government that has become too large and too expensive, said Schafer, who has started and led a number of companies during his career outside public service.

“We can’t let government pull down the successful and the accomplished,” he said. “We must push government to support and lift up others to soar to the heights.”

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