The following is USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's year end column, reposted in its entirety from the USDA Blog.
"Over the course of 2012, farm families and rural communities faced a number of challenges. A record drought impacted much of the country and many were impacted by a major hurricane, flooding and severe storms. However, thanks to the resilience of rural Americans, our communities are still going strong.
Over the course of this year, USDA continued our record efforts to help folks across our nation, and I am proud of the work we carried out.
We supported agriculture. This summer, USDA convened the White House Rural Council to help America's farmers and ranchers overcome drought. We provided unique flexibility for crop insurance that saved producers more than $20 million, expanded emergency lending for producers, opened more than 2.8 million acres of conservation land for emergency forage and more.
We promoted exports, with agricultural exports hitting a near-record level this year, and staying on track to set a new record in 2013. New, fully implemented trade agreements promise more than $2 billion in additional agricultural trade every year, and over the course of 2012 we broke down even more unfair trade barriers to U.S. products.
We supported conservation efforts. In America's National Forests, we adopted a modern planning rule that will conserve the forest while creating more jobs. We protected more communities, clearing more than 4 million additional acres of flammable brush from forests. We continued our work with more than half a million private landowners to conserve America's soil and water.
We built up communities. USDA provided an additional 10,000 loans and grants for rural businesses. We helped 150,000 more families achieve the dream of homeownership and carried out more than 1,500 new community facility projects. Meanwhile we expanded our efforts to improve rural infrastructure, with 10,000 new miles of electric line and more than 1,500 water improvement projects.
We ensured a safe food supply, and nutritious food for Americans. USDA took historic action this year to further inspect ground and raw beef products, and tighten standards for poultry. We continued our efforts to help one in four Americans put food on the table, while maintaining the integrity of food assistance programs. And we helped provide emergency food assistance for Hurricane Sandy victims – just one of more than 100 disasters for which we have provided this assistance since 2009.
I'm proud of these efforts. From supporting farmers to furthering business, our wide range of accomplishments stand as proof that USDA touches the lives of every American, every day. Since 2009, we've achieved record results in almost every part of what we do – and I look forward to accomplishing even more in the year to come."