BOISE – Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thanked Idaho dairy producers Nov. 7 for their efforts in kickstarting a plan to grow U.S. milk exports by 5 percent.
The effort, which began last year and is known as “The Next 5%” plan, seeks to expand U.S. dairy exports from the equivalent of 15 percent of annual U.S. milk solids, to 20 percent.
Idaho dairy producers contributed $1 million toward the plan.
“It started with the folks in this room,” Vilsack, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, told Idaho dairy producers during Dairy West’s annual meeting. “You led the effort and encouraged other states and (regional dairy checkoff organizations) to step up.”
Vilsack said that exports add about $1.25 in value for each hundred pounds of milk produced in the United States, and he noted that U.S. dairy exports have hit a record this year.
Although many dairy operations are struggling right now with depressed prices, “Things would be even more difficult if we were not … seeing a record year in exports,” he said.
The Next 5 % strategy has enabled USDEC to put more boots on the ground in important international markets, increase partnerships and expand promotion programs, Vilsack said.
According to a USDEC fact sheet on the plan, the world is forecast to need an additional 1.3 million metric tons of dairy products over the next three to five years. The strategy calls for increasing U.S. cheese exports by 200,000 tons and dairy ingredient exports by 450,000 tons over that period.
During his hour-long presentation, Vilsack thanked all U.S. farm and livestock producers for helping sustain one of the country’s most important economic sectors.
He said the nation’s food and agriculture sector represents 20 percent of the U.S. economy and 43 million American jobs, which equals 28 percent of all U.S. jobs.
“You are a major economic force,” Vilsack said. “You do so much for this country (and) make us safer … We are not really dependent on anyone outside of the United States to feed our people. No other major power in the world today can say that.”
The dairy industry alone accounts for 3 million U.S. jobs and $628 billion every year, he said.
“This is a really important business and you are really important people and I hope you understand that,” he said.