Veneman's stop marked her first official visit to Georgia since becoming part of President George Bush's administration.
During a 90-minute stay in Houston County, she toured a peach processing facility and inspected a peanut and cotton field. She saw and heard firsthand how Georgia farmers are embracing new technologies and research to stay competitive in today's expanding marketplace.
UGA CAES Dean and Director Gale Buchanan (far left) talks peanuts with Calhoun County farmer Bob Mclendon, Berrien County farmer Darvin Eason and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.
Veneman told a gathering of farmers and state officials that the United States has to expand international markets, especially for agricultural products.
Veneman said 96 percent of the world's population lives outside the United States. So it's vital to have access to global markets.
She said the domestic market is stable and that U.S. farmers already produce surplus commodities.
"We export over $53 billion a week in agricultural products," she said.
U.S. Secretary Ann Veneman and U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss talk with Houston County peach farmer Duke Lane./font>
The United States will have to become more aggressive towards markets outside the country, she said.
"There are 130 regional and bilateral trade agreements that have been negotiated around the world," Veneman said. The United States is part of two of those agreements.
"Only two," she said. "If we don't get proactive, we will be left behind."
Veneman defended U.S. participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The agreement has benefitted agriculture, she said. U.S. farm exports to Mexico have doubled since NAFTA was implemented in 1995.
Good for the state
"I think it's important and extremely beneficial that Secretary Veneman has come to see Georgia agriculture up close," said Gale Buchanan, dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Buchanan said he appreciated Veneman allowing Georgians to show her some of Georgia's agricultural.
"I appreciate it," said Ralph Dorsett, a Houston County farmer. "The fact that she took time out of her schedule to come to middle Georgia and see the crops we grow and listen to our problems says a lot."
Many farmers in attendance were concerned about the fate of the federal peanut program. Georgia produces almost half of the U.S. peanut crop. But the peanut program has come under fire in the House of Representatives.
U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) accompanied Veneman. He said the changes "look after our folks that have been quota holders for years. But it also attracts producers into the market, probably, that we've never had before. It's going to make it more competitive, but that's OK."
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)