Hello, I'm Dean Borg filling in for Mark Pearson.
A look at the state of the economy this week shows no dramatic changes but there is a little good news. Despite recent big losses in construction and factory jobs, employment gains turned out to be stronger than previously estimated. *The Labor Department reports the unemployment rate dipped to 4 1/2 percent in February – from 4.6 percent in January. The Labor Department also reports *workers average hourly wages rose to $17.16 – slightly higher than economists were projecting.
The U.S. made some gains in overseas markets as well. * The Commerce Department reported the gap between what America sells abroad and what it imports fell to $59 billion last month, down by nearly 4 percent from December. Part of the reason reflects gains in sales of farm products. They are gains for agriculture the USDA forecasts will continue for 2007.
Mike Johanns, USDA: "Agriculture holds the solutions that can create a more secure and a more prosperous future…"
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has announced an increase in the forecast for agricultural exports to a record $78 billion for fiscal year 2007.
Mike Johanns, USDA: "That means, we will have a one year increase… A one year increase, get this, of $9.3 billion. And that's the second highest on record."
Speaking at USDA's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, Johanns said two thirds of the increase is attributable to strong demand in the grain and oilseed sectors. Increased demand for corn is credited, primarily, to soaring ethanol production. And that, in turn, is fueling higher income down on the farm.
Keith Collins, Chief Economist USDA: "Net cash farm income, it's forecast to be $67 billion in 2007. That's moderately above last year, but, both crop and livestock receipts are expected to be record-high this year, amazing $16 billion more than last year."
Despite a sharp increase in farm cash receipts, the modest rise in net cash income reflects lower government payments and higher production expenses. USDA predicts government payments will decline to $12.4 billion in 2007, down nearly 25 percent from 2006, and half the amount Uncle Sam paid out two years ago. The focus of this year's Agricultural Outlook Forum was biofuels and the demands placed on producers to meet lofty production mandates.
Patricia Woertz, President and CEO, ADM: "The President's call for 35 billion gallons by 2017 and other proposals that you've seen in Congress, call for a greater production, and very visionary proposals. They foresee a future where cellulosic ethanol, corn ethanol, biodiesel, as well as other alternatives, will all play a part. We share this vision…."
ADM President and CEO, Patricia Woertz says her company is working on the next generation of ethanol. And, she says new technologies could make cellulosic ethanol a reality sooner than expected.
Patricia Woertz, President and CEO of ADM: "At ADM, we are doing cellulosic research on our current feedstocks. One process involves thermochemically treating corn hulls and stalks so that we can create ethanol, from what we already gather and process today, and make 15% more ethanol without even a single additional kernel of corn. Cellulosic applications such as this, I think they can be as little as a year-and-a half, to two years away."