Three months into President Donald Trump’s administration, we have a secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Georgia native Sonny Perdue takes the helm. A two-term former governor of the Peach State, Perdue is a savvy politician. He also knows agriculture, having grown up on a farm, earned a degree in veterinary medicine and has operated several successful agri-businesses, including a grain trading firm and a trucking company.
Perdue’s tenure in Washington, D.C. begins at a time when the agriculture industry is in a tough place. Net farm incomes are down precipitously from as recent as three years ago, when prices for both cattle and grains were at an all-time high.
By and large, the nation’s major commodity groups and ag associations are supportive of Perdue’s confirmation, and have said all the right things. He will need these groups’ support to get the job done.
In his proposed 2018 federal budget, Trump suggests USDA trim its budget by 21 percent. Of course, in Washington, D.C., the president’s budget is more of a suggestion than a mandate. But we all know Perdue has a giant task in front of him in running the federal government’s largest agency, with more than 100,000 employees.
With that in mind, here’s what I hope he accomplishes during his time as USDA secretary, combined with quotes then-nominee Perdue said about the same topics:
Keep crop insurance intact
As crop prices have dropped, the “safety net” for farmers is more critical than ever. A robust crop insurance program is necessary. I’m not enamored with the “crapshoot” nature of selecting either Price Loss Coverage or Agriculture Risk Coverage (a producer who chooses the wrong one could face a gaping hole in that safety net), but these programs can—and should—be tweaked and improved. The concern is the government will trim the budget for these programs, either forcing producers to ante up more for the same coverage, or find the level of coverage will be reduced.
Sonny says: “To me, I think the American taxpayer gets a good value (with crop insurance). And hopefully we can work together … to make sure that the crop insurance program is sound, solid and a good economic value not only for producers, but the taxpayer as well.” (Source: Potato Grower magazine)
Perdue’s boss, President Trump, raised eyebrows when he promised to drop the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact and redo the North American Free Trade Agreement. The former would have been a boon to U.S. ag trade; the latter already is. U.S. farmers and ranchers produce more food and fiber than our country can possibly consume; therefore, international trade of ag goods is imperative. Perdue gets that, and promises to stress the importance of trade to the Trump administration.
Sonny says: “We need to have a good trade policy because the producers out there have been so productive, we’ve got a lot of stuff we need to sell, and we’re going to sell it worldwide. Trade’s got to be at the top of our agenda. We’ve got to be good traders.” (Source: SupermarketNews.com)
Loosen the noose of regulations
No doubt, the business of farming and ranching is more difficult due to the myriad of federal regulations producers must abide. (Waters of the U.S., anyone?) Many of these are misguided and onerous, and the Trump administration is already working to reduce the impact of these burdens. I hope Sec. Perdue continues to take a hard look at those rules that unfairly target the ag industry. The agriculture industry obviously cannot run amok, but a more sensible approach to regulation is necessary. He has already met with other members of the President’s Cabinet to address burdensome regulations.
Sonny says: “I think not only in the EPA, but in all agencies, we develop ‘silos’, that are unfortunate.” (Source: USDA)
There is so much more to add to this list. Sec. Perdue must make big decisions on labor, rural America programs, infrastructure improvements, conservation programs, plus food assistance and nutrition programs. And of course, his legacy will be passage of the 2018 farm bill. He has a big job ahead of him, and we’ll be watching.
Source: Bill Spiegel, High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal
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