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American agribusiness not only enhances our nation's economic strength, but it also provides our population with something we often take for granted: the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world. The American economy has become integrally tied to the world economy. To prosper in this world market, America will need to continually increase its competitiveness, producing the highest-quality goods and services at a reasonable cost.

American technology and innovation have made agriculture an extremely competitive industry and one of our strongest exports. In 1994, agricultural exports reached an all-time high of $43.5 billion, representing 8 percent of total exports, with a $17 billion trade surplus. This year should prove even more fruitful.

With such competitive agricultural trade, America has become even stronger internationally, leveraging relations with countries where we have faced significant trade deficits for years. Superior American agricultural products have generated a strong foothold in Japan, for example, which helps offset the continued imbalance of automotive and consumer electronics trade. Japan's appetite for American beef and many other food products has created a $9.2 billion market for ag exports.

The competitiveness of American agricultures also is making America stronger internally. Through technology, innovation and plain hard work, American agriculture has freed natural resources, created jobs and provided stability for food, clothing and shelter. Nearly 18 percent (21 million) of American workers are involved in putting food on our table.

To ensure America's continued vitality and prosperity, we must maintain the competitive edge of American agriculture. A vital component is the continued support and understanding by the American public of today's high-yield food production methods. Our urbanized and media-oriented society has become less connected with the farm and its modern food production methods, raising public concerns at a time when we Americans enjoy the best food supply in the world.

The industry is aggressively responding to consumer's demands about our foods and the way they are produced. It is developing programs to better communicate a response to the public. The American Agribusiness Ambassadors program is a good example of a program designed to open greater dialogue between the food production industry and consumers.

This group of top youth leaders from 4-H and the Future Farmers of America, two of the nation's leading organizations for developing youth training and leadership programs, has been telling consumers across the country the good news about the significant competitive strength which agribusiness provides to this country while also listening and responding to consumers' concerns.

So as we enjoy our backyard barbecues with family this summer, let's give thanks for the prosperity that agriculture has afforded our great country. As the backbone of America, agriculture has not only kept her upright and walking since our forefathers declared independence, but it will allow her to run forward in the new independent world.

Brad Fahrmeier and Willie Harlow are American agribusiness ambassadors representing Missouri. The ambassadors are the 100 top 4-H and FFA student leaders from across the nation.