Trump Said to Nominate Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary

January 18, 2017 09:39 PM
Sonny Perdue

President-elect Donald J. Trump will name Sonny Perdue III, the former governor of Georgia, as the next U.S. secretary of agriculture, according to people familiar with the choice.

Perdue, 70, would replace outgoing secretary Tom Vilsack, said the two people who asked not to be identified because the process is private. Perdue met with Trump on Nov. 30 and told reporters they talked about agricultural commodities traded domestically and internationally.

"Sonny will work hard to advance smart agriculture policies that will help our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities across the country,” Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia and the nominee’s cousin, said in a statement. “I could not be more proud of my cousin."

Senator Perdue, who may be Trump’s strongest ally in the Senate with the expected departure of attorney general nominee and Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, had urged the president-elect to name his relative to the post.

Trump rode to his election victory partly on strong support from voters in rural areas clamoring for an economic turnaround. Farm incomes, which reached a record high in 2013, are expected to fall for a third successive year while debt levels have climbed.

While Trump’s team has yet to discuss agriculture in much detail, the president-elect’s statements during his campaign covered areas that could have major implications for agricultural businesses. The U.S. is a major exporter of crops and other farm commodities, and that flow of goods may be disrupted if Trump follows through with a pledge to reshape trading relationships with China and other countries. Such changes might also affect global commodity prices.

Additionally, if U.S. immigration laws are enforced more strictly, business owners may face labor shortages. Undocumented workers comprise a major slice of the U.S. farm and agricultural labor force. On the other hand, farmers may stand to gain from a promised relaxation of environmental regulations.

Perdue would also need to get to grips with the 2018 Farm Bill. Rural America’s new-found political influence will help shape the legislation, Chuck Conner, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and a Trump adviser, has said.

Slow Pace

Perdue -- no relation to the family of the same name that owns chicken producer Perdue Farms Inc. -- was born in Perry, Georgia. 

A graduate of the University of Georgia, he served as a state senator before becoming the first Republican governor of the state in 130 years in 2003. He was known for promoting pro-business policies while working to streamline government to improve its efficiency. He stepped down in 2011 and founded Perdue Partners LLC, an Atlanta-based trading company.

"He’s a talented politician. He seems capable," said former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman in an interview before the choice was made. Glickman, who served under President Bill Clinton, knows Perdue from their work at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based research group that draws its leadership from both parties.

The slow pace of Trump’s nominations -- USDA secretary is the last cabinet post to be filled -- has frustrated farm groups, who note the importance of rural voters to the president-elect’s victory in November. Still, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the biggest U.S. farmer group, lauded the choice of Perdue.

"He is a businessman who recognizes the impact immigration reform, trade agreements and regulation have on a farmer’s bottom line," said Zippy Duvall, a Georgia native and president of the Washington-based Farm Bureau.

One environmental group criticized the pick shortly after it was reported earlier by Fox News, calling Perdue a climate-change skeptic who supported the expansion of massive chicken farms in his state while governor.

"Given Perdue’s position with a global agribusiness trading company and his actions as governor, we are concerned that Perdue will use his position at the USDA to prioritize the profits of big agribusiness and trade over the interests of American farmers, workers and consumers," said Kari Hamerschlag, a deputy director with Washington-based Friends of the Earth, in a statement.

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Spell Check

Boyden , IA
1/19/2017 07:49 AM

  I feel like this is a nod to outside investors and more farm consolidations. I'm a little unsure that this path is the best option. The industry in America depends so much on foreign demand and labor that those foreign countries supplying that should/could just buy us out. Then we'll basically be consumers of foreign "imports" produced in our own country. This path we're on looks a bit insecure to me.

Senior PA Dairy Farmer
Westfield, PA
1/19/2017 08:35 AM

  Sounds like the agricultural "Establishment" is pleased by Mr. Trump's choice. Fine, be a "climate- change skeptic," but if the ag Old Guard, like those cited in this article, continue to push the same 'ole same 'ole global "Free Trade" policies that have brought our traditional family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities to the socio-economic ruin we are facing today, widely called the worst ag economic collapse since the "Great Depression," then may God help us. Trump rode to his election victory partly on strong support from rural communities that cannot take any more of the "free trade at all costs" policies, based as they are on cesspool "world" ag prices and exploited "undocumented workers." Trump delivered a loud and clear populist message that resonated with "The People," and that includes all the rural Americans tired of being marginalized and ignored by the entrenched power brokers who still claim to speak for us. We know very little if anything about Mr. Trump's understanding of the farming community's desperation because, typical for rural Americans, agricultural issues weren't addressed significantly by any of the candidates in either party during the campaign season. That is typical of how real farmers are treated by the inside the beltway crowd, including bi-partisan politicians and lobbyists still pushing the status quo. Will Mr. Trump, the "outsider," grasp that there hasn't been a seat at the table for real rural Americans for decades? We'll see. But, for sure, if the new administration ignores the critical and long overdue need for US farm policy to return to US "cost of production" for all farm commodities FIRST AT THE US FARMS---before any farm product is "Free Traded"---then nothing at all will change for our farmers and ranchers in "fly-over" country as the "free traitors" plunge this country's rural communities farther and farther into the insolvency and debt that been part and parcel of all the "free trade" "Farm" Bills.