Most of the successes encountered during one’s life are the result of a series of small victories, some hardly noticeable, which ultimately add up to achieving an important objective.

A former colleague described the process of reaching a goal or accomplishing a big task one small step at a time as “progress, not perfection.”

Two examples of this principle occurred this week for livestock producers. First, the submission to Congress of the long-delayed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia was welcome news for animal agriculture. Second, a bill was introduced that would reduce the amount of ethanol produced when corn inventory is dangerously low- a stipulation that should have been included in the original renewable fuel standard.

Both developments were welcome news, giving much-needed optimism to livestock and poultry producers. No one knows the outcome of these developments at this point, especially with Congress in charge, but both actions are common sense steps.

In a first step indicating that legislators believe the trade agreements have been delayed long enough, a House committee approved the trade pacts just two days after receiving them, setting the stage for a full House vote. Although the full House vote is also expected to give approval, don’t celebrate just yet. Implementation of the trade agreements is still far from being a done deal. The FTA’s also will require Senate approval.

What’s more, the deal with South Korea, the biggest in terms of boosting U.S. ag exports and the biggest single U.S. trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement, will need to be ratified by Seoul. Lingering opposition to the FTA still exists among certain government factions there.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit Washington, D.C. on Oct. 13 for a trade summit with U.S. officials. The meeting provides added urgency to Congress for fast-track approval of the trade pacts, especially the one with South Korea. An announcement heralding the approved trade deal would provide an appropriate centerpiece for the discussions.

Introduction of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) Flexibility Act is the other development that buoyed the optimism of animal agriculture this week. The measure would reduce the minimum ethanol production level required by government mandate when the nation’s corn inventories fall dangerously low, as they are currently.

Livestock and poultry groups lauded the measure saying it will provide relief in times of tight corn supplies while also ensuring there is enough corn to meet the demand from all end-users. Ethanol production now consumes more corn than goes into the production of animal feed.

Naturally, U.S. corn growers are against the measure. After all, what business would want to give up any part of government mandates requiring use of its product?  The National Corn Growers Association cites the ongoing importance of reducing the nation’s dependence on imported oil.

While livestock and poultry producers are not against ethanol as part of the solution to reduce the nation’s dependency on oil imports, they want a level playing field to compete for their corn needs. Mandated production levels of ethanol currently at work in the United States prevent that.

Obviously, whenever the government mandates the production of a commodity, it becomes impossible for markets to operate efficiently and equitably. The proposed RFS Flexibility Act would go a long way toward allowing poultry and livestock producers an opportunity to compete for corn in a more equitable manner.

With all the challenges facing Congress, the RFS Flexibility Act may not see immediate action and, like the free-trade agreements, we will have to wait and see what the outcome will be.

Meanwhile, both of the week’s developments are steps in the right direction. Little by little, step by step, these two issues may result in very important outcomes for producers.

Progress, not perfection.