(MENAFN - Arab News) Farming is something that touches the soul of any nation, envelops its emotions and draws on its financial and natural resources. Farming and food are essential to life and they are often an integral part of a nation's culture. As I have witnessed time and again, food is often the center of Arab hospitality, with family, friends, and strangers alike uniting around a good meal.
Whenever I travel around Saudi Arabia, I make it a point to visit farms and agricultural enterprises in the different regions. In each place, I am deeply impressed by the diversity of agriculture in the Kingdom - the olive groves of Al-Jouf; the citrus orchards in Najran and Taif; the emblematic dates of Madinah, Al-Ahsa and Qassim; or the dairy products of Hail, Qassim and Madinah. I spent my boyhood on a dairy farm in the state of Georgia, and I have fond memories of the responsibility, adventure and connection to the earth and nature that are part of a life closely linked to agriculture. Having had the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia's agricultural areas has been one of the major highlights of my travels over the past three years.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, and his government recently announced a record budget, signifying their strong commitment to investing in the future of the Kingdom and its people. One important aspect of the new budget is continued support for programs and projects that will help secure reliable sources of food and agricultural products that are sufficient to the needs of the people of Saudi Arabia.
The king and his government appreciate that the Kingdom's resources in water and arable land are precious and scarce. They are committed to the development and implementation of programs to make the best use possible of those natural resources, and to help the Kingdom feed and nourish its population.
Maintaining a secure and reliable food supply for its people is one of the highest priorities of any country, including my own. The scarcity of resources in water and arable land make it necessary, however, for the Kingdom to supplement its own agricultural production in order to fully meet the needs of the Saudi people. The government has sought reliable trading partners in other parts of the world, where critical agricultural commodities are available at a reasonable cost and of high quality.
The start of the new year is a time for new opportunities and a time to develop creative and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing us today. Among the challenges for Saudi Arabia and many other countries is the need to expand access to secure and reliable supplies of agricultural goods.
The United States is a major agricultural producer and we have been blessed with the varied resources and climates that make it possible for us to consistently and efficiently produce wide array of agricultural products at reasonable costs. Shipping capabilities are critical to maintaining the integrity of agricultural exports, and the US transportation systems allow for quick and efficient delivery of goods to nearly every part of the globe. I am proud to say the United States is a nation that takes pride in honoring contracts and trade agreements.
The United States currently leads the world in the export of food and agricultural products. Last year alone, the United States exported a total of 136 billion of these products, with 12 billion in wheat and 16 billion in meat and poultry. This impressive volume of trade is evidence of our established track record as the world's largest and most reliable supplier of food and agricultural products.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have a longstanding history of bilateral trade, particularly in the areas of food and agricultural products. Saudis have come to trust and appreciate a variety of US brands and products. In Saudi Arabia's major cities US food brands are easily found on the shelves of local markets and restaurant franchises are part of the cityscape where you shop.
The farms and ranches of the United States have a solid track record of providing a consistent, reliable and high-quality supply of agricultural and food products to our Saudi partners. They are ready to build on that success and enhance the supply of goods they provide to the Kingdom.