During the past year I've visited dozens of Minnesota's businesses and farms. All over our state you see that "Made in America" isn't just a timeworn cliche -- it's happening here and it's happening now.
Wherever I go, I'm always reminded of how important farming is to our state's economy.
In fact, you could even say that agriculture is our ultimate "Made in America" industry. It's our ultimate export industry, too.
Last year America exported more than $136 billion in farm products, a record high resulting in a trade surplus of $42 billion. Minnesota, as the sixth largest agricultural exporting state in the country, contributes substantially to these export numbers.
The positive impact goes far beyond our farms. It's estimated that every $1 billion in agricultural exports supports 8,400 American jobs, meaning that America's farm exports helped support more than one million U.S. jobs in 2011.
In short, agriculture is one of the few really bright spots in a national economy that otherwise continues to struggle toward recovery. Minnesota's strong farm sector is clearly one reason our state has an unemployment rate that is significantly below the national average.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, my goal is to further strengthen Minnesota's rural economy and ensure that our farmers continue to have the support they need to thrive and succeed.
In 2008, I worked with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson to pass a strong farm bill that has helped our farmers remain the most productive in the world while also protecting them in hard times, whether caused by the weather or the markets.
The 2008 Farm Bill strengthened the farm safety net, expanded the market for renewable fuels, and created the first-ever permanent disaster assistance program which covers both Minnesota's crops and its livestock and poultry producers.
This month we are holding a series of hearings in Washington to begin crafting the 2012 Farm Bill. As we move forward, my top priorities will be:
Preserving and strengthening the farm safety net: From our dairy farmers to our sugar beet growers, Minnesota's agriculture leaders need to know that they won't lose everything in the event of a market failure or natural disaster, like the heat waves or floods we experienced last summer. This means a strong crop insurance program, improved dairy program, beginning farmer and rancher incentives, continuation of the sugar program, and disaster assistance.
Providing incentives for homegrown energy: In Minnesota, homegrown energy production supports thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth. It is vital that this growing industry have the certainty and stability it needs to invest in innovation and develop the next generation of American energy sources.
Conserving our natural resources: Minnesota ranks in the top five states for conservation programs, which help farmers and ranchers conserve sensitive lands and promote practices to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and even fight flooding.
I also believe there is more we should do to cut government red tape and reduce unreasonable regulatory burdens on our farmers. In the past year we warded off efforts to regulate dust, manure and milk spills and I will continue to advocate for reasonable rules going forward.
The 2012 Farm Bill will be written in an environment where the federal budget deficit must be reduced. Our challenge will be to protect and improve the very best from the 2008 Farm Bill while achieving cost savings wherever possible.
During the budget reduction debates last year, I joined my colleagues on both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to stand against those who wanted to strip nearly all funding for crucial farm programs. At the same time we reached a basic across-the-aisle agreement on some significant reductions.
We stood together, as Democrats and Republicans, to send a clear message: Everyone will need to accept a fair share of sacrifice, but we must not balance the budget on the backs of our family farmers.
Protecting our farmers isn't just the right thing to do. It also makes good economic sense. Every year, Minnesota's farms, forests and ranches export $5 billion worth of agricultural goods that support 40,000 jobs. As we continue down the road to economic recovery, Minnesota's farmers will lead the way.
From the food on our table to the fuel in our gas tanks, agriculture is as central to our state's economy as it is to our heritage. We do right by ourselves when we work to support the farms and agriculture businesses that are so important to Minnesota and to America. Our prosperity depends on it.