With a farm-spun wit and easy-going style, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue charmed more than 100 people who came to see him this morning at Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery north of Grand Rapids.
Touching on several points of emphasis regarding agriculture from the current administration, Perdue told the crowd that federal regulations must be curtailed for the good of the country.
“I’m really here to listen,” he said. “If we’re going to have an effective ag program across the country, I need to hear from you (about) the impediments, practices and regulations that are impeding your productivity.”
At a brief press conference after his interaction with farmers, Perdue said the EPA’s actions when it developed the Waters of the U.S. rule will be changed.
“That was a confiscatory effort on the part of the federal government to claim every little puddle out in a field as a water of the U.S.,” he said. “Everybody knew that was wrong. I think we will continue to see Scott Pruitt (Director of the EPA) continue to balance our needed environmental concerns of protecting our wonderful environment, air and water quality with reasonable types of activities that farmers can utilize. Farmers are some of our best conservationists if we liberate them to do the right thing, incentivize them through the CRP program, the EQIP program and other types of programs that help them care for the environment. They will do that, they want to do that, and I think we’ll get that done.”
Perdue also spoke of labor and trade issues, noting that we now have “a free trade agreement that doesn’t allow dairy and poultry and those kinds of things to go north while they enjoy the benefits of our consumption economy here in the U.S.”
Broadband availability for rural areas was also discussed, and Perdue announced the launch of the new USDA website, named Farmers.gov. He reiterated what was said in a USDA press release about the new site.
“Farmers.gov is now live but will have multiple features added over the coming months to allow agricultural producers to make appointments with USDA offices, file forms, and apply for USDA programs,” the release said.
The website, launched at (the Robinette’s) breakfast hosted by the Michigan Farm Bureau, gathers together the three agencies that comprise USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation mission area: the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.
“Many farmers are out in their fields using equipment that is connected to satellite and GPS technology, yet when they need to interact with USDA, they have to stop, fill out a paper form, and fax or carry it to their local office. That is a real digital divide,” Perdue said. “Our staff is friendly, and they love to see farmers in person, but they know that time is valuable. Producers are working hard to make their farms profitable, so these tools will help get the paperwork done without taking a big chunk out of the day to fill out forms.”
As Perdue interacted with the attendees, he assured farmers that his administration is serious about reforming policies that have hurt American agriculture.
“The day I was signed in, (Trump) signed an executive order over rural prosperity in agriculture,” he said. “He asked me to chair it and look at all the ways we can make agriculture stronger in America. I presented that report to him at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville. The great news is that this document is not to be put on a shelf. If you know anything about Trump, know that when he signs an executive order, it’s not an executive suggestion. He meant business and he means for us to carry out those things.”
Lastly, Perdue left the crowd with a bit of a challenge.
“We need to be prepared to feed the world,” he said. “We have to produce more in the next 30 years than we have in history to feed the hungry world, hungry mouths that are growing incomes; a middle class that wants protein. This is a powerful country that can produce that, and the world is going to depend on the American farmer more and more as we go forward. When you talk about safe, strong and proud, that is American agriculture to me.”