With the U.S. economy struggling to keep its head above water in a valiant attempt to avoid a double-dip recession, many news stories and headlines are downright discouraging these days. Stories about job loss, home foreclosures and poor business conditions dominate most other developments and may actually make matters worse.

Brushing aside the doom and gloom headlines, however, you will uncover some good news. The U.S. agriculture industry, as it often does, is staging an impressive performance and, in the case of exports, delivers some very encouraging news.

According to a USDA Economic Research Service report released last week, fiscal 2011 U.S. agricultural exports are forecast at $113 billion, up $5.5 billion from the revised 2010 forecast. 

Fiscal 2011 grain and feed exports are forecast at $31.5 billion, up $4.3 billion from the revised 2010 estimate. Sharply higher volumes for wheat and corn are the primary drivers, as well as increases in distillers’ dried grains.

The news is also good for livestock producers. Fiscal 2011 livestock, poultry, and dairy exports are forecast to rise $600 million over the revised 2010 forecast to $21.8 billion with expected growth in meat, livestock, and poultry. U.S. pork exports for example, are forecast to reach $4.5 billion — up $350 million — mostly on greater volumes expected in the markets of Japan and Mexico. That means roughly one in five hogs raised by U.S. pork producers is bound for foreign markets.

Agriculture is among the best America has to offer. And food is one thing that won’t go out of style. “At a time in our service-dominated economy when it’s difficult to find anything in a Wal-Mart or even a Home Depot that’s ‘made in America’, U.S. farmers remain very competitive in the production of food, fiber and fuel at the farm level,” says Ag Services Director Dan Manternach, Doane Agricultural Services.

In an economy such as ours that needs some good economic news to bolster jobs and growth, one would think the government would double their efforts to help. For one thing, it means more jobs. One hopes the administration fosters this success and does whatever it can to support and sustain it.

With U.S. agriculture excelling in such a challenging economic environment, imagine what additional progress could be made with effective support and meaningful progress on lowering or eliminating trade barriers. “Agriculture will now generate trade surpluses of about $30 billion in both fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011,” says Doane Washington Editor Rich Pottorff. “But it could be contributing even more.”

Instead of raising or maintaining barriers against U.S. agriculture exports, the time is now to lay aside the politics and special interests that stifle them. Implement the free-trade agreement with South Korea that has already received approval from both countries, yet still languishes in Congress. Get serious about resolving the current trade dispute with Mexico.

If you think agriculture is good now, just wait until you see what is truly possible.

We need to give U.S. agriculture the best chance we can give it. In the words of Johnny Mercer, “ac-cent-chu-ate the positive… and latch on to the affirmative.”

With leaders in Washington searching for a piece of good news, they need not look any further than our farms and fields. With commitment, support and some meaningful action, U.S. agriculture can be a beacon not only to export markets around the world but our economy as well.