Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Stabenow, D-Mich., said during that panel’s hearing to examine agriculture’s effect on the U.S. economy that American agriculture now is supporting 16 million jobs and is one of the few industries leading the economic recovery.

Attending his first Senate agriculture committee hearing as ranking member, Sen. Roberts, R-Kan., said America’s farmers and ranchers are critical to the US and global economies and that he would work to ensure producers have the tools they need to meet the food and nutrition demands of a growing global population. "We must work together because too often agriculture programs become the target of criticism and attacks," he said. "Some see America’s producers as cowboys wearing black hats in the western movies … but not me."

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas, R-Okla., said during that panel’s hearing that, "The agriculture economy is highly cyclical and it changes like the weather in western Oklahoma: fast, sharp, and without notice. This reality helps explain why the mood in farm country today is both upbeat and apprehensive. This fact, along with experience, offers a cautionary note to anyone who might be tempted to cite current economic conditions on the farm as the basis for setting long term farm policies."

That panel’s Ranking Member, Rep. Peterson, D-Minn., said, "The farm economy is good, and has been solid through the past few years. This is due, in part I believe, to the farm bill that we passed in 2008. I look forward to working together to provide farmers with five more years of certainty by passing another strong farm bill in 2012 and today’s hearing was a good place to start."

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s testimony before both the House and Senate agriculture committees included an extensive review of the U.S. farm economy and coverage of other key matters, including: biotechnology; conservation; trade; the estate tax; nutrition; the proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rule and civil rights. Larger themes also emerged during his testimony; among them commodity prices, land values and economic stability, regulation, dairy policy, and crop insurance.

Regarding the U.S. farm economy, Secretary Vilsack told both committees that economy is “coming off unprecedented increases in U.S. agricultural exports, farm cash receipts, farm income, and asset values the past few years.”

He noted that crop cash receipts are forecast to reach $195 billion in 2011, exceeding the previous record set in 2008 by $18 billion. Cash receipts for corn, soybeans, cotton, and fruits and nuts are all expected to rise to all-time highs. Cash receipts for wheat will likely be up in 2011 but remain below the record level set in 2008.

He said government payments to producers in 2011 are expected to total $10.6 billion, down $1.6 billion from 2010. In 2011, producers are forecast to receive $4.7 billion in direct payments, $3 billion in conservation payments, $1.9 billion in disaster payments, and $0.8 billion in tobacco transition program payments. With major crop prices forecast to be near or above previous record high levels in 2011, counter-cyclical payments and marketing loan benefits are projected to be only $20 million in the coming year.

The Secretary stated that prospects for the coming year generally look bright with more normal weather and production increases worldwide leading to an improved supply-demand balance in key markets. With biofuel demand expected to continue growing, although at a slower pace in the future, he said a big challenge will be responding to that demand by producing on more acres and producing more per acre while protecting the environment.