Daniel Whitley: “I’m Bullish On American Agriculture”

Published online: Jan 18, 2023 Articles Lane Lindstrom, Editor, Potato Grower Magazine
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(ED—The following comments were made at a recent sugarbeet meeting but the comments Daniel Whitley are just as applicable to the potato industry so we are reprinting them here.)

Daniel Whitley, the new Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) spoke to a group of sugarbeet and sugarcane growers as well as other members of the sugar industry, sharing his take on the latest foreign trade and exports news.

Whitley is no stranger to FAS stakeholders and the agricultural trade community, having served in various positions during a 20-year career with the agency. Most recently, he was responsible for leading the FAS trade policy and market analysis teams as Associate Administrator.

FAS links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security through its Washington, D.C.-based staff and a global network of nearly 100 offices covering approximately 180 countries.

While Whitley covered a broad range of topics during his talk, we tried to narrow it down to five takeaways from his presentation:

1) Resilience and Reliability. In talking about the American farmer and American farming, Whitley started off by praising both and talking about the respect the world has for both. He said, “I want to talk about what I think is the health of American agriculture and just a little bit about where we're going. … from supply chain disruptions, to Covid to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to high fertilizer and input costs. We've seen and experienced all of these things in recent months and going back about a year now. There are two words that I'm going to read over and over and over throughout my remarks this morning: resilience and reliability.

2) Exceed the Forecast. Whitley talked about recent negotiations that opened Mexico to fresh potato shipments and a renewal of an agreement with Japan on beef. He said, “We’re working very hard for American agriculture and we’re working very hard to make sure we can increase these market access openings … and maintain these openings. So what does all that translate into? Exports are on fire. Exports are on fire. The current export forecast is about $192 billion. That's the latest forecast. Last year's record was $177 billion. We are going to exceed that forecast. A lot of that is price driven, value driven, but a lot of this is resilience and reliability of American agriculture.

3) Strengthen Our Relationship. The FAS administrator then talked about how the FAS has been back out on the road, working on export agreements all over the world. He said there were four trade missions and two trade shows the FAS are planning. This, in addition to some visits FAS had already made. He said in those missions and trips he hears similar sentiments every time. “The word I hear all the time is ‘we want to strengthen our relationship with American agriculture because we can rely on American agriculture.’ The reliance and trust factor of our competitors has dissipated dramatically over the past couple of years.” He then added, “Think about this. We set record exports during the height of the supply chain disruptions, labor supply, the availability of the infrastructure was down. We set record exports. That's what American agriculture did.”

4) Set A Record. Whitley said that in February, 2022, the FAS had a trade mission to Dubai, the first in-person trade mission and trade show since the pandemic began. He explained, “The traffic, the visitors at the USA pavilion set a record. The number of folks looking to do business, establish a new relationship, more relationships with American agriculture was off the charts. We set a record for participants, not just since the pandemic. We set a record based off of pre pandemic payment levels. We set a record for first year sales, which we can track since when we sign contracts on a trade mission.”

5) Top Markets/Future Markets. He said, “Our top markets continue to be China, Mexico, Canada and Europe. We've got over 30 markets now where we're selling at least $1 billion worth of products. We often talk about diversifying our markets. We're doing just that, not just China, although China is leading the way of course. China is a good market, a very good market for a lot of reasons. But we are diversifying. We are needing to ensure that we can access different markets. So we think the future is bright. We understand there are a number of challenges but the resilience of American agriculture we're very confident will meet those challenges and surpass those challenges.”

Whitley finished his remarks by saying, “So I’m bullish on American agriculture. Enthusiasm for American agriculture is like I’ve never seen before. We’ve got some challenges to overcome, but I’d rather be in our shoes than anyone else’s shoes.”