The 'Sonny' Side of Agriculture

January 23, 2017 10:34 AM
Sonny Perdue

The agriculture industry was getting antsy about President Trump’s pick for Secretary of Agriculture – or more accurately, the lack thereof. Every other major Cabinet position had been selected as of Jan. 19, when Trump indicated he wants former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead USDA.

From humble beginnings as a farmer’s son to working as a veterinarian, Perdue got a taste for politics in the early 1990s, serving multiple terms as a state senator and twice as governor of Georgia until his second term ended in 2011.

“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land,” President Trump said in a statement.

USDA has a roughly $155 billion budget for 2017 and broadly affects all Americans but has added prevalence for rural Americans, with programs that provide assistance for nutrition, conservation, forestry and farms.

Not much is known at this time about Perdue’s stances on several key industry issues, nor how he will help shape the 2018 farm bill. Since leaving politics in 2011, Perdue has kept close to his rural roots, managing a trucking and warehouse company from his hometown of Bonaire, Ga.

Roger Bernard, policy analyst with Informa Economics, is optimistic about the selection.

“Perdue knows agriculture – grain and livestock in particular,” he says. “He should be a good spokesperson for ag, and that’s important as we approach our next farm bill, and as society continues to shift away from the farm.”

Perdue also already enjoys the support of the bulk of farm industry groups, many of whom issued positive statements following the Jan. 19 announcement.

“I have known Gov. Perdue for years,” according to Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation and fellow Georgia native. “I’ve seen firsthand his commitment to the business of agriculture as we worked together on issues facing farmers and ranchers in our home state of Georgia. He understands the challenges facing rural America because that’s where he was born and raised.”

Duvall adds that because Perdue is a businessman, he recognizes the impacts that immigration reform, trade agreements and regulations can have on farmer income.

Meantime, National Cattleman’s Beef Association president Tracy Brunner, who operates a fourth generation ranch in Kansas, calls Perdue an “excellent pick” to head USDA.

“Perdue has a unique and expert understanding of both the business and scientific sides of agriculture,” Brunner says. “In a time of increasing regulations and a growing governmental footprint, we have no doubt that Perdue will step in and stand up for rural America.”

The past three to serve at this post were from the Midwest, and Perdue doesn’t reside in a “top 10” agriculture state. But Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran brushed that criticism aside in a recent interview with AgriTalk host Mike Adams.

“It’s not a division between the south and the Midwest,” he says. “There aren’t enough of us who care about farmers and ranchers to have divisions. A lot more brings us together, than pulls us apart. If you’re a family farmer that raises peaches in Georgia, it’s about the same thing as a wheat farmer in Kansas.”

That “same thing,” according to Moran, is giving American farms and ranches enough opportunities to stay vibrant and successfully pass the family operation down to the next generation.

At a Glance

  • 70 years old
  • Married to Marry Ruff
  • 4 children, 8 foster children and 14 grandchildren
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Georgia
  • Served in the U.S. Air Force
  • Was a Democrat before 1998
  • Georgia Senator: 1991-2001
  • Georgia Governor: 2003-2011
  • Was a Democrat before 1998
  • No relation to Purdue Foods
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