Perdue finds USDA priorities after talking to farmers and ranchers across U.S.
Arlington, Va. – Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue delivered a “State of Agriculture” overview during the 2018 USDA Agriculture Outlook Forum in late February, and he noted the heart of America is the source for his inspiration and the work of USDA.
In a 2,200-mile RV tour, Perdue met with farmers and ranchers across the country to assess the state of the industry and understand challenges being faced by America’s farmers and ranchers.
“It was so fascinating to hear from the people who were hungry to be heard – and not only to be heard, but for us to be told what was going on across the country,” he said. “They help to inform our policy.”
He continued, “The only way I know how to do this job is to get out of the bubble here and talk with producers in this country. I need to hear continually from the Heartland of America.”
Perdue noted three consistent themes in his conversations with producers that drive USDA’s work within the agency and while interfacing with Congress.
“I hear these three main areas consistently, no matter what county I’m in from the Northeast to the Southwest, from the Northwest to the Southeast,” he said. “They are regulation, trade and a reliable, legal workforce.”
With years of regulatory burdens coming from Washington, D.C., Perdue commented, “President Trump has gone on the offensive to exterminate this vermin of over-burdensome regulation.”
Today, Perdue said USDA works to ask the question “What purpose does that have?” as they look at regulations to understand whether Washington’s actions are environmentally and economically sustainable.
“I believe President Trump has done more to free us from strangling regulations in his first year than most presidents do in a full term in office,” he commented.
Trump has also issued an order challenging agencies to remove two existing regulations for every newly issued mandate. In the past several years, Perdue said government agencies have effectively created new laws through regulations and rules, which is not their intended role.
Perdue commented, “The last data I have seen showed a 22-for-one removal of regulations for every new regulation made at USDA. That’s a radical new paradigm to look at, understanding we need to uncouple and un-handcuff the American and agricultural economy in a way to be productive is imperative.”
USDA is pushing for 28 final regulatory “de-actions” which they project to generate $56 million in annualized savings from dollars that producers would have had to spend to comply.
“We’re continuing to look and try to burrow out those regulations that don’t make sense and have no protection capacity but have been put in over the years,” he said.
At the same time, Perdue encouraged farmers and ranchers to provide input, noting he needs help to understand exactly what regulations create burdens. Producers can visit usda.gov/ruralprosperity to provide direct input to USDA on regulations that are burdensome in their operations.
Trade relationships in the U.S. also create concern for producers, Perdue said, citing the ability to sell ag products as important to the agriculture industry in the country.
“I think if people watch, they’ll see that President Trump is a shrewd negotiator,” he commented. “He’s shrewd, and he wants the best for American agriculture, American people and the American economy.”
As a result, Perdue is confident in Trump’s ability to secure a deal in the North America Free Trade Agreement that benefits not only farmers and ranchers but the rest of the economy, as well.
“We know trade connects rural America to the global economy,” Perdue continued. “Even in the face of trade challenges, U.S. agriculture creates a bounty enough to share with the world, so trade is critical for U.S. agriculture.”
“As the economy in foreign nations grows, it increases the demand for high-quality, nutritious food and fiber,” he explained. “That increasing demand means increased opportunities for farmers and ranchers.”
One of USDA’s goals is to continue to erode the protectionist barriers for trade as they relate to agriculture, an effort that USDA Undersecretary for Trade Ted McKinney is actively working on around the world today.
“While we have the production numbers we see today, the question is, who’s going to work on the farm to protect these bountiful harvests? That’s a question that comes up no matter where we are,” Perdue said.
Finding a safe, reliable and legal workforce is important to American agriculture.
“Agriculture is caught in the crossfire on immigration issues today,” he explained. “I believe there are many people who would like to come to this country on a temporary basis – not to work towards citizenship, but to work in ag – where we should have a separate category for agriculture immigration and a legal workforce.”
Perdue also said the current H-2A program is cumbersome, convoluted and doesn’t work for many producers.
“I know we could have a more effective system in place to work for agriculture employers,” he commented. “This should be easier for everyone involved – the people who want to come to work, farmers and ranchers who hire them and the agencies involved.”
“Agriculture is pretty unique within immigration,” Perdue added. “I’ve worked hard with the White House to help them understand this issue. They still believe there is a domestic workforce to help farm and harvest crops every year.”
Perdue emphasized foreign people who work on farms and ranchers every year aren’t taking jobs from Americas and aren’t putting a burden on the criminal justice and welfare systems.
“As we work forward, I want to make sure agriculture is supplied with a consistent, legal workforce,” he said.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction on these fronts,” Perdue commented. “There are some struggles we will face, but we will shoot straight in solving them.”
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, wrote this article following USDA’s Agriculture Outlook Forum. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.