Perdue Testifies For Stronger Trade Relations on Capitol Hill


Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told lawmakers in his first formal appearance before Congress that trade is the way out of a bad farm economy, but agency efficiencies will also be key, while some things like SNAP and animal disease programs must be protected or enhanced.

On the farm economy, Perdue told House Ag lawmakers…

“That our farm economy is down about a 50% drop in net income from where it was in 2013 as you all were looking at and contemplating the 2014 farm bill.”           

It’s “dire straits,” Perdue says, with less help this year than last…

“The government payments total almost $13 billion in 2016, and based on those great yields that Ranking Member Peterson talked about, we can’t continue to depend on, and it’s going to be less than that in 2017.”      

Perdue says the farm bill safety net is working, but trade is the answer…

“In the ’14 farm bill, you all recognized that and suggested very strongly in an undersecretary for trade, and I happen to agree with that.   It’s not an easy thing to do, several components have to come together and we’re working through those details right now.  But, we felt it was important because trade was almost number one on everyone’s mind that I spoke with.”

Perdue suggests keeping key wins in the now-defunct TPP and even extending them to a trilateral NAFTA, Asia trade effort, while protecting trade-important U.S. herds with vaccine banks for FMD and highly pathogenic avian influenza.

On whether he’ll press for trade-facilitating locks modernization on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in the president’s infrastructure plan, Perdue says…

“Yes, in the broad answer.  Specifically, on the 1,200 foot…and we’ll look at that and see.  I was at the White House yesterday in an infrastructure meeting, and let me tell you, inland waterways are right at the top of their list in contribution to the economy.  We know how important it is to the ag economy.”                     

Meanwhile, Perdue defended his move to elevate the undersecretary for rural development to be closer to him and criticized the media for portraying it as an elimination of the post.

He listened to criticism of the president’s proposal to cut USDA’s budget by 21 percent, including elimination of key rural development programs, but said he’ll explore ways to make some USDA programs more efficient.

But on SNAP, he seemed to side with the program’s defenders…

“As far as I’m concerned, we have no proposed changes, you don’t try to fix things that aren’t broken.  And when the motto is ‘do right and feed everyone’, I view that as very, very inclusive.”        

And Perdue dismissed efforts to limit what kinds of foods SNAP recipients can buy, suggesting he leans against being a ‘nanny state,’ trying to dictate healthy eating habits when people won’t practice them at home.

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.