Citing high crop prices and record exports, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held an optimistic tone Thursday in a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee.

“On the whole, we are optimistic,” Vilsack told the committee, explaining that record U.S. farm exports is a major driver of economic recovery and rural economies.

“As you may know, recent data tells us that U.S. farm exports reached an all-time high in calendar year 2010. We saw a rise in both the value and volume of U.S. agricultural exports worldwide. Supported by foreign economic growth, particularly in developing countries, U.S. agricultural exports are again expected to be a record high this fiscal year – up nearly $18 billion for FY 2010, with the agricultural trade balance is forecast to be a record $41 billion.”

Vilsack’s report wasn’t entirely rosy, however. “While prospects generally look bright, recent sharp increases in prices for major crops are generating a range of concerns,” said Vilsack, who provided more detail in his written report to Congress.  

Rising crop prices also impact the cost of doing business for certain sectors of agriculture, Vilsack explained.

“While all of agriculture experienced a robust recovery in 2010 and 2011, expenses are increasing – especially prices of farm origin inputs like livestock and feed, the price of energy, and operating costs,” he added. “The livestock and dairy industries could face some financial pressures in 2011 and bear watching. At the same time, many small and mid-sized operations have continued to struggle to earn substantial on-farm income. We need to be aware of this reality, and ensure that our work to expand domestic markets, in particular, helps them succeed.”

“As we enter 2011, the U.S. farm economy is coming off unprecedented increases in U.S. agricultural exports, farm cash receipts, farm income, and asset values the past few years. American agriculture is helping lead the recovery from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Prospects for coming year generally look bright.”