USDA Secretary Perdue talks farm bill and trade at stop in central Illinois

Greg Bishop
Posted: Aug 08, 2017 5:25 PM

Stopping at a family farm just outside of Springfield, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture said he wants to focus on markets, not programs.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said Monday that farmers aren’t as productive when they’re planting to conform to a program, rather than consumers, and gave an example from his native state of Georgia, where farmers were given substantial subsidies for growing peanuts.

“The peanut guys did very, very well,” Perdue said, ”and you saw a lot of acres go to peanuts that probably shouldn’t have been in peanuts, they were not peanut farmers. Yet, they were farming for the peanut program.”

State Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, was in attendance and said that was a great message.

“We want to make sure that we are meeting the supply and demand ratio,” McCann said, “and that people are properly rewarded for that so that they can make a living providing that food to the rest of the world.”

Farmers told Perdue they don’t want changes to the subsidy program, which they characterized as a safety net.

Perdue said some industries might need to be separated in the insurance program, like keeping cattle separate from milk, but “I’m glad you feel like the insurance program has done well on the cash grain guys and I know that Congress will take that into consideration as well.”

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, was also in attendance Monday. He said “Mother Nature, you just can’t control that, so you need a safety net.”

“Farmers pay into it,” Shimkus said. “They quibble about how much they pay in, how much is covered … but the agriculture community needs at least a safety net so they can continue to be in the field.”

Perdue said the USDA plans to do more with less to help alleviate the nation’s debt.

Aside from what would be in the federal farm bill, international trade was one of the chief concerns Perdue heard about.

Perdue was praised by the Illinois Farm Bureau for urging the Trump Administration to stay in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Perdue said the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was bad for the U.S.

“Honestly, we have more in common in this North American continent than we do within all the TPP nations,” Perdue said. “And it’s worked very well. Agriculture has benefited very well under NAFTA for the most part.”

He said some of the fruit producers in southern states might not be happy with the deal, but the grain and livestock industries continue to benefit from the agreement.

A cattle farmer in attendance said something has to be done with the recent tariff of 50 percent that Japan imposed on U.S. beef. Purdue said they’ll work to correct that.

“I think many agriculturalists were disappointed over the TPP,” Perdue said, “but frankly I do believe that President [Donald] Trump is right. I think that we’re going to be tough negotiators and negotiating bilateral deals and we just have to start very quickly.”

Purdue said he believes Japan wants a bilateral agreement, and he’s headed to Asian markets to hash out deals soon.