LAS VEGAS — Two leading economists, Bruce Scherr and Dave Kohl, see a brighter future in 2011 and beyond for U.S. agriculture, especially for crops that are exported.

Economists declare high hopes for 2011 at Potato Expo

Don Schrack

Barbara Shelley (from left), chief communications officer for United Potato Growers of America, Salt Lake City, chats with Wisconsin grower-shippers Kirk and Jacqueline Wille at Potato Expo 2011 in Las Vegas, which runs Jan. 5-7.

“The economy is in decent shape,” Sherr told the opening session of the Potato Expo on Jan. 6. “It’s going to be a long haul to get us back to the kind of prosperity we would all love and want, but we will be structurally better off.”

He predicted the U.S. economy will continue to grow at about 3% over the next few years now that the country’s financial structure has been corrected. .

“The U.S. became the poster child of industrial failure,” Scherr said. “We led the entire world into the deep, deep economic debacle that we’re just now climbing out of.”

The recovery is due to a rebalancing of the world economy, Kohl said.

“We were living off a false economy for the past decade where we used our homes as an ATM.”

A bright spot the experts see for grower-shipper-exporters is the improving lifestyles in emerging countries. China and India brought “as many as 1.5 billion persons from subsistence level to culturally defined middle income” in the past decade, he said, adding that millions of families now enjoy the luxury of home refrigerators.

Economists declare high hopes for 2011 at Potato Expo

Don Schrack

Bruce Scherr, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Informa Economics Inc., Memphis, Tenn., is cautiously bullish on the world economy heading into 2011.

“No longer are they buying just enough for a meal at a time,” Sherr said. “They’re buying for meals at a time.”

As proof, he pointed to China’s becoming the world’s most rapidly expanding dairy consumer.

China and India — along with Russia and Brazil — were 18% of the world’s economy in 2010 but 47% of the world’s growth, Kohl said.

“As long as they’re about 40% plus of the world economic growth, commodity prices are going to do very, very well,” he said.

While the future looks brighter, neither expert expects the U.S. jobless rate to recover rapidly.

“It’s a lagging feature,” Scherr said. “Job creation will continue to expand, though slowly, I believe unemployment by 2012 will migrate to somewhere around 8.5%.”

U.S. productivity will continue to help drive recovery, Kohl said.

“The U.S. will produce more in one hour than 25% of the countries of the world produce in one year,” he said. “We produce more in 28 days than China does in a whole year.”

The advantage to domestic grower-shippers is the populations in the less productive countries must eat and their tastes have become more refined.

“We will move forward in a world of extraordinary opportunity, as billions around the world have rising incomes and insatiable demands,” Scherr said.