Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue faced the House Agriculture Committee this week during a hearing over the state of the rural economy. He also discussed his docket as the head of USDA.
Sec. Perdue answered questions from the Committee during the more than three-hour long meeting Wednesday morning about the recent changes to USDA undersecretary, infrastructure, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), crop insurance and the economic outlook.
Sec. Perdue highlighted 2017 and 2018 are very different economic times than when the 2014 Farm Bill was created and budget situations are challenging. Yet, he’s made an oath to his job as USDA had saying he welcomes ‘the accountability.’
During his fourth week on the job, Sec. Perdue shared his perspective on the economic outlook in rural America, stating net farm income is half of what it was in 2013.
“We have several members, particularly younger farmers, have levered this situation where their revenue is not supporting their debt structure,” said Perdue. “They're in some dire straits that way."
Perdue received both praise and criticism during the hearing for announcing a new USDA undersecretary for trade last week and eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development at the USDA.
“Will someone in your office take on the day-to-day management responsibilities of leading rural development with this new structure?” asked Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) “It’s a staff of 5,000. It’s a loan portfolio of more than $225 billion. The concern is just the attention that’s going to be given to rural development.”
“I can’t handle all of that myself,” said Perdue. “We’re going to have an assistant secretary directly reporting to me who will be the go-to person but that person will not only have responsibility to manage that portfolio, doing what we were doing that way but also having direct access so we can move quickly and nimbly.”
Those actions will bring the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) together. Perdue says it’s a way to “bring the family together.”
“With the NRCS, the mission won’t change, people won’t change, [it] may be locations will change from an economy of scale perspective,” said Perdue.
Perdue was pushed about bi-lateral trade deals and whether the U.S. is progressing with making its own separate deals with countries still a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“The two great winds in that area is American beef back in Brazil already,” said Perdue. “I hope we’ll be able to announce very soon and show you a picture of U.S. beef going into China, which is a huge market.”
Sec. Perdue was also asked about updates when it comes to a bi-lateral trade deal between the U.S. and Japan. It’s a country which could be a huge market for the U.S. livestock sector.
“Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross [and President Trump] asked me to write him a letter so he can [share] when he meets with the President of Japan to indicate again the protocols that we need to do to get back into there as well,” said Perdue.
Sec. Perdue also answered questions about having a vaccine bank in case of a possible Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in livestock. Perdue said he sees the vaccine as “insurance” and “priceless” since the ag sector cannot afford a fallout.
Sec. Perdue states his goal is to make producers and the Ag Committee proud of how USDA is run. He says he wants the department to be the most effective, most efficient and best managed in government.