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Bronaugh: U.S. agricultural trade ‘extraordinarily resilient’

(© Mark Howard – stock.adobe.com)

Dr. Jewel Bronaugh returned to her Virginia roots Nov. 30 as the keynote speaker at the 2021 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Williamsburg.

Bronaugh, who currently serves as deputy secretary of agriculture for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the agency remains committed to bringing American agricultural products to both long-standing and new overseas markets.

“Some of our greatest export growth is in so-called emerging markets,” she shared. “Countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand are seeing rapid GDP growth, expanding classes, lots of urbanization and increasingly modern retail food systems, and they value American agricultural products.”

In the face of American anxiety over high gas prices and growing inflation, Bronaugh emphasized the positive economic news the agriculture sector has seen in recent years.

“Our U.S. agricultural trade has proven extraordinarily resilient in the face of global challenges, and in a challenging economy. So, we closed out the 2021 fiscal year with a record agricultural export number—$172 billion, up 23% from fiscal year 2020.”

In an interview with Virginia Farm Bureau’s Real Virginia television program, Bronaugh explained how her experiences at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services helped her at the national level.

“Coming from the state, I think I have a unique perspective of understanding the importance of getting programs rolled out at the federal level in the right way … because the state is the connection to the rubber meeting the road,” she said. “Having that perspective of really understanding where federal programs land for farmers and ranchers and forestland owners, it helps me navigate through that system of the federal government to identify when things are complicated. People don’t understand how to access those resources; they need technical assistance, they need a little bit more outreach and awareness. That’s where coming from the state level perspective has helped.”

Bronaugh, who was educated at Virginia Tech and James Madison University, and who served on the faculty of Virginia State University before joining VDACS, emphasized the importance of locally produced agricultural products.

“This is really important, and coming from Virginia State University I have always appreciated the focus on local and regional food,” she said. “The pandemic increased demand for local and regional foods. I remember when we were locked down and everybody was having problems getting toilet paper and getting food from the grocery store. I remember going to a U-pick operation and they sold out of every strawberry. People were lined up to pick their own, and they felt comfortable being outside, and it was really nice to see those opportunities go to some of those small and mobile farmers.”

Bronaugh also spelled out some of the priorities most important to her at USDA, including combating climate change, closing the digital divide with more resources for rural broadband, advancing equity in hiring at the agency, and the mental health of farmers. She said VDACS has received $500,000 in federal funding to address mental health issues affecting farmers and their families.


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