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Obama launching program to promote rural exports

The cargo ship Sea Diamond is berthed for loading at the Terminal 86 grain facility in Elliott Bay in Seattle last October. (Associated Press)
The cargo ship Sea Diamond is berthed for loading at the Terminal 86 grain facility in Elliott Bay in Seattle last October. (Associated Press)
Nedra Pickler Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is launching a new program to help American farmers and rural businesses boost their exports.

Obama plans to announce the “Made in Rural America” initiative today at Michigan State University. The president is visiting the school to sign into law a sweeping farm bill that sets policy for agricultural programs and food stamps.

He’s coupling the signing of the nearly $1 billion-a-year legislation with the announcement of the new administration program to connect rural businesses with federal resources that can help sell their products and services abroad. The program’s creation comes as U.S. farmers are sending more products overseas – a record $140.9 billion in the last fiscal year – but U.S. officials say additional opportunities exist overseas for farmers and other rural business owners.

According to a draft of his plan obtained by the Associated Press, Obama plans to direct federal agencies to take several steps in the next nine months toward that goal. They include hosting five regional forums for rural businesses, training Agriculture Department staff in all 50 states to advise on export opportunities, and putting on a national conference to highlight successful projects.

The farm bill was a rare work of compromise in a divided Congress in a midterm election year. Obama’s trip to Michigan was a reward for Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who helped broker a hard-fought compromise to pass the bill into law after years of setbacks. Michigan State, a leading agricultural research school, is Stabenow’s alma mater.

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