The farm bill making its way through Congress is important to everyone who lives and works in West Virginia because it provides critical support to one of the pillars of the state's economy: international trade.
The bill helps keep the doors open to exports of America's food and agriculture. In 2012, West Virginia's food and agriculture exports reached $109 million. For that reason, as well as the need to diversify West Virginia's economy and provide support to producers and exporters of agricultural products, West Virginia has a vested interest in the fate of the bill.
Many countries are itching for a reason to shut out American imports by technical or regulatory fiat, and our competitors are outspending us to win foreign consumers from us. Without funding for boots on the ground to keep the regulatory doors open and vie for consumer demand, we'll quickly lose export markets to competitors such as Europe, Brazil and Australia. Considering that one of every three acres planted in the United States is destined for foreign markets, being cut off from these markets would be disastrous not only to the U.S. economy but also to the billions of people around the world who rely on the United States for nutrition.
America's agricultural sector has been a bright spot in the U.S. economy, with exports rising over 50 percent in the past five years and being one of the few sectors of our economy enjoying a strong trade surplus. We exported a record $141 billion last year, and global demand will continue to rise sharply, particularly among growing middle classes that recognize our products for their quality and safety. Many of the products seen on local grocery store shelves can also be found on grocery shelves around the world -- items familiar to us but in unfamiliar places like Hanoi, Hanover, Dubai and Dublin.
Exporting can put West Virginians to work with high-paying jobs that, unlike the goods they will handle, cannot be exported to other countries. These jobs extend beyond the farmlands and ports to local banks, law firms and transport businesses.
Because of a rising world population and an increasing ability to afford higher quality foods, global food and agriculture demand is expected to double by 2050. West Virginia is uniquely suited to continue taking advantage of this trend. So whether you call it a moral responsibility, a business opportunity, or the fuel that feeds a critical component of the local economy, a farm bill matters.
Hingle is the executive director and CEO of the Southern United States Trade Association, which promotes the growth of U.S. food and agricultural exports to markets around the world.