Themes and Takeaways From Savannah Round Table

Opportunities and Challenges for International Trade

Farm Foundation kicked off our 90th year by convening our Round Table Fellows in Savannah, Georgia, on the topic of “Opportunities and Challenges for International Trade.”  The Round Table Fellows are a unique group of thought leaders, tapped by their peers to become members of this program. All discussions are off the record; however the broad themes and insights are shared to catalyze change and progress for the food and agriculture sector.

Prior to the discussions, we enjoyed a tour day of the Port of Savannah and some agricultural sites in the area, learning about a variety of crops including Vidalia onions. The port tour highlighted the heavy volume of traffic coming through that port, as well as the high degree of automation and digitization deployed there. The ongoing evolution of trade and innovation means all ports need to keep investing in infrastructure and modernization to ensure the United States continues to be a leader in trade.

This year we had an esteemed group of global speakers joining us for this in person gathering. The Honorable United States Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack joined in person for the opening keynote and questions. Then we had a panel of former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture, including Secretary Glickman, Venneman, Johanns, and Schafer. What was striking about these conversations was the bi-partisan respect across this group of leaders who all share the desire to advance agriculture. Among the themes discussed were the ongoing challenges with Mexico for trade relations, such as for GMO corn, with mixed views on likelihood of progress until a change of leadership occurs. Most thought the upcoming Farm Bill would likely be evolutionary in nature and discussed the role of the food program in advancing bi-partisan legislation.

International Trade Dynamics

Through other sessions attendees gained a deeper understanding of trade dynamics. One session highlighted the long-term challenges that will result from the war in Ukraine, made more visceral by several participants from Ukraine highlighting the personal, national, and global destruction that is a direct result of this war. Seasoned veterans of trade negotiations shared the sheer amount of detailed work and negotiations that go into any trade agreement, both the technical and interpersonal dynamics that play out. Logistics and infrastructure leaders shared how they are continuing to invest through hiring, training, and innovating to ensure our country has what is required to support robust trade in agriculture.

We also welcomed some guests and younger participants from Farm Foundation’s Next Generation programs who added different perspectives to the dialogues.

The next Round Table gathering will be in Chicago, June 14 to 16 on “Mapping the Future of Food and Agriculture” and will feature a public gala to celebrate our 90th birthday the evening of June 15. For more information, contact

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