From improvements to Texas' highways to adding more value to agricultural goods produced in the state, producers and agribusiness leaders came away from an international agricultural trade summit in Houston armed with new strategies to strengthen Texas' role in world export markets.

The two-day summit was presented by the Texas Agricultural and Natural Resources Summit Initiative. Global experts shared their views and knowledge on current issues affecting international trade with farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, retailers, consumers, government and natural resource leaders who have a particular stake in the international trade of Texas agricultural products and commodities.

The highlight of the summit was the keynote address given by Dr. Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner for developing broadly-adapted high-yielding rust resistant wheat varieties and integrated improved crop management practices that helped feed the hungry in Third World countries.

Though biotechnology has not come without controversy, Borlaug said individuals "should not be afraid of change. There is an antiscience movement, but this is mostly because of ignorance."

Borlaug said these views have been drawn mainly because a lack of education, and he made a plea for increased educational efforts by both universities and the news media so a better understanding of biotechnology can take place.

New technology will help increase food production for the future, Borlaug said, expressing certainty that enough food will be available to feed the population in the next 25 years. But, he warned, that will come "if we can continue to build technology and add to it."

China will become one of the biggest importers of agricultural products in the next 10 to 15 years, Borlaug said, with the country importing increasing amounts of both grain and meat.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who addressed the group at noon on Nov. 14, said Texas could position itself to become a hub of agricultural export trade, but only if the state's producers become "export ready."

"We are next to Mexico, on an East Coast access and we are dead-smack in the middle of the country," she said. "We are poised to be the center for transportation, transhipping and the first points of entry, but it's going to take a certain amount of intellectual maturing for us to realize how widely situated we are."

Combs noted Texas is the sixth-leading state in total ag exports behind California, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois. Texas ranks No. 2 in total agricultural revenue and No. 3 in live animal and red meat exports behind Nebraska and Kansas.

"We can do better," Combs said. "We need to do better, not just in all commodities, but the whole process."

Meanwhile, summit participants spent part of the two-day process in a workshop setting, developing new ideas and strategies that could help Texas' farmers and ranchers better market their products produced in the state.

Of the several key issues identified at the summit, they included:

--Identify value-added, processing and marketing opportunities.

--Enhance e-commerce and improve the connection to rural areas.

--Take advantage of Texas' image to better market products.

--Increase the emphasis placed on the science and education of GMOs.

--Form a better understanding of agricultural markets for each country.

--Increase funding for marketing programs.

--Develop joint global marketing programs.

Agriculture in the United States and Texas has become increasingly dependent on trade during the last decade. Total U.S. agricultural exports in 1999 reached $49 billion, generating $90 billion in economic activity and accounting for 750,000 jobs.

In 1999, Texas was the sixth largest state exporter of agricultural products, valued at $2.5 billion.

Summit sponsors included the Texas Rice Council, Texas wheat Producers Board, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Grain Sorghum Producers, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Center for North American Studies, Texas Agricultural Market Research Center, Port of Corpus Christi, and Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Development Council.

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