WASHINGTON — US Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Jewel H. Bronaugh welcomed in-person and virtual attendees to the 99th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum on Feb. 23.

It was the first in-person iteration of the Department’s flagship event in two years, as the 96th annual event in February 2020 was held just before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the United States into lockdown mode, initially for two weeks to flatten the curve of infection. The 2021 and 2022 events were held virtually. The USDA combined in-person and virtual components of the Forum for the first time in 2023 and said the combined registrations topped 5,000 people.

Ms. Bronaugh welcomed 30 Future Leaders in Agriculture program winners, which she described as “very talented undergraduate and graduate students representing the diversity in agriculture.”

“One of my great passions is uplifting the next generation of agriculture professionals, and seeing all of our winners here today gives me such great confidence that the future of our industry is capable, hard-working and innovative, and that spirit of innovation is something that unites all of us here today,” she said.

The introduction to the Forum touched on the recent difficult years for agricultural and rural communities as the pandemic and related supply chain issues coincided with ongoing climate change issues and were compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which have roiled grain markets for more than a year.

Those factors “have raised unique and troubling challenges for us all,” Ms. Bronaugh said. “But because our farmers, farm workers, processors, industry and international partners never wavered in your commitment to providing food, fuel, fiber, and because of that we have been able to endure. And not just endure, but in many ways thrive. Costs are down, employment is up, and the last year we saw record agricultural exports. It’s our challenge, and guess what? We turned it into opportunity. And you did it because you know, as the ones on the front lines of these challenges, when rural America thrives, so does the rest of this country. It’s your commitment to creative problem solving that makes this all so exciting.”

The 2023 Forum featured panels on Workers and the Workforce; Creating Value and Economic Opportunity Through Climate Smart Commodities; and Strategies for More and Better markets. The 99th annual event’s scheduled sessions included more than a dozen breakout sessions, including a US food price outlook, global supply chain disruptions, drought and western agriculture, fertilizer availability, the impact of Russia-Ukraine and US farm income forecasts.

Other sessions included outlooks on grains and oilseeds, sugar, cotton and fiber, livestock, poultry and dairy.

Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack on Jan. 26 announced Ms. Bronaugh would depart her position at the end of February. He acknowledged her service to the Department during his address to the Forum on Feb. 23.

“We’re sorry to see her go and as I’ve said several times, I can’t go on much further talking about her, if I do I’ll probably lose it as I did in one of the meetings with senior staff,” Mr. Vilsack said.