Commentary: Perdue outlines USDA accomplishments, future goals

Issue Date: January 17, 2018
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks to the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Perdue described what he called “a record of success” for the Department of Agriculture since he took office, and presented recommendations of a task force on agriculture and rural prosperity.
Photo/Brian McAndrew

(Editor's note: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn., last week. Following are excerpts of his remarks.)

We know that the USDA and the American Farm Bureau Federation have had a great relationship, and it's absolutely one that we want to continue.

Trade is a key to rural and farm prosperity. Canada and Mexico continue to be major partners in U.S. exports, so successful completion and improvement of the NAFTA negotiations remains a top priority of this administration. But to get a deal, we need all sides to seriously roll up their sleeves and get to work.

We, the United States, have put a number of proposals on the table to modernize NAFTA and, critically for agriculture, to address key sectors left out of that original agreement, specifically dairy and poultry tariffs in Canada. Now, we want to ask our partners in the north to step up and engage in meaningful conversation so we can get the deal done, for them and for you.

I have great faith in President Trump's skills as a negotiator, and I'm quite confident that he will strike the best deal possible for the United States, and that we will have a fair NAFTA agreement that works well for our economy, including the agricultural sector.

Let me share with you the truth about my first eight months in office. We have already built a record of success in the Trump administration and at the United States Department of Agriculture.

First and foremost, we wanted to reorient USDA with a focus on you, the producers, our customers. So we got to work and reorganized our department.

We unveiled a newly named undersecretary for farm production and conservation, for a newly constituted mission area. What we did was take things that face the customer and put them together, locating our domestic agricultural programs in one place, with a common focus on the areas where you, the farmers, have the most interaction with USDA.

We've made trade a priority with the creation of the first-ever undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs. We have scored victories in a matter of just a few months. After 13 years, American beef is back in China. We signed a protocol to allow exports of U.S. rice to China for the first time ever. The European Union eased regulations on citrus exports. American chipping potatoes are back in Japan. South Korea has lifted its ban on imports of U.S. poultry.

Following President Trump's directive, USDA has begun rolling back excessive, onerous government regulations that have stood in your way. The president made it a two-for-one deal: For every new regulation instituted, we had to get rid of two old ones. Well, administration-wide, we did better than that.

President Trump has cut out 22 regulations for every one new one that has come on the books. I think chief among the regulations the president targeted was that hated waters of the U.S. rule, which you all worked on for so many years.

At USDA, we've done our part in lifting the millstone of regulatory burden. We've already identified 27 final rules for 2018 that will save over $56 million annually, and friends, we are just getting started.

We know there must be rules and regulations that you encounter on a daily basis in your operations that are harmful and unproductive and an impediment to your productivity. We want you to bring them to our attention, so we can take a look at those and see if there's something we can do about bringing you some relief.

So you can see, demonstrably through actions and not mere words, that this president and his entire administration have made rural America a priority.

On the day I took my oath of office, President Trump signed an executive order creating the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, and he asked me to chair that task force.

You know that the overall economy is booming again, and for that we're thankful and optimistic, but anyone who lives in what used to be called "flyover country" knows that rural America has not exactly kept pace.

Formed out of 22 Cabinet departments and federal agencies, the task force enthusiastically embraced the challenges before it, to understand the issues that keep rural America from thriving, to develop a set of solutions to address those issues and to tear down the walls among, within, between levels of government that inhibit that growth.

I have traveled to over 30 states, listening to the people of American agriculture about what's working and what's not. It was clear people believe folks in Washington, D.C., had stopped listening to rural America over the years. In short, we found a real hunger from citizens who just wanted to be heard. Rural Americans were tired of slogans, lip service and benign or purposeful neglect.

The result is a report that identifies legislative, regulatory and policy changes to promote agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security and quality of life in rural America.

We envision a rural America with world-class resources, tools and support to build a robust, sustainable community for generations to come. The report contains over 100 practical, actionable recommendations in five key areas: e-connectivity, quality of life, rural workforce, technology and economic development.

I'm humbled to be here with you to serve as your secretary of agriculture. For me, this is not a job, it's a mission. We touch the lives of all Americans and countless others around the world. I leave you with the words of our new motto at USDA: Do right and feed everyone.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.