In his first major farm policy speech as the new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue addressed Iowa farmers and ag leaders on a number of key issues May 5 at a central Iowa farm. Bill Couser, a cattle feeder, along with wife Nancy and their son Tim, hosted the event. The Cousers took Perdue on a walking tour of their feedlot facilities.
“It’s great to be here as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture knowing all that Iowa contributes to American agriculture,” said Perdue, a veterinarian and former Georgia governor. The morning began with a meeting of Perdue and farm leaders, including Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Iowa’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, along with Iowa Congressman Steve King.
During his speech to a crowd of approximately 200 people, Perdue talked about trade, ethanol production, government regulation, the need for soil conservation and water quality protection programs, and other farm issues.
NAFTA may be renegotiated soon
The Trump administration hopes to renegotiate a new NAFTA trade agreement within the next six months, said Perdue. “We’re not talking about this taking years to do, but weeks and months.” He said the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has been good for farmers. But it hasn’t been good for all U.S. industries, such as manufacturing.
Perdue noted that “President Trump has said we’re going to give these countries a little more time to renegotiate NAFTA in a way that’s more fair and balanced. We will also reassess trade issues with other countries, such as looking at ways to get beef into China." Trump has asked Perdue to write a letter to China’s and Japan’s top trade officials about selling beef to the two countries. “Our president is going to put a hand-written note to the presidents of those countries” on the letter, Perdue said.
Perdue added, “My chief job is selling ag products across the world, and President Trump has my support.”
Perdue’s message on trade issues was applauded by Iowa farmers attending the event. Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill expects Perdue will look at ways to “modernize and improve” NAFTA. “Secretary Perdue talked about producing and selling crops, livestock and farm products,” said Hill. “Everything we produce here in Iowa needs to find a market, and much of that market will be outside our borders.”
Promises to support a strong RFS
Regarding renewable fuels, Perdue said he supports the Renewable Fuel Standard, which calls for blending a certain amount of ethanol and biodiesel into the nation’s fuel supply each year. Purdue reminded the crowd that President Donald Trump has publicly stated numerous times that Trump supports ethanol and biodiesel. Perdue said he also has assurances from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that they support renewable fuels.
When Couser introduced Perdue to the crowd, he noted that off in the distance across the fields you could see a corn ethanol plant and a cellulosic ethanol plant, as well as wind turbines generating electricity. The local co-op elevator was also nearby. Couser said, “Iowa farmers and rural investors built renewable fuel producing facilities to help reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil and help create domestic demand for corn and soybeans.”
“All this corn would be leaving the state for processing elsewhere if our rural communities had not invested in renewable fuel production,” said Couser.
Outreach to farmers is applauded
Perdue fielded questions from the audience. Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, reminded Perdue that for many years USDA has been a leader in the effort to expand consumer access to higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel. “It is important for you to understand the need for continued growth in the availability and use of higher blends; it is critical for the ag economy,” said Shaw.
Shaw added, “It is encouraging to see in only your second week on the job, you are pursuing input from farmers, renewable fuel producers, and other stakeholders directly impacted by the decisions USDA will make. We especially appreciate your reiteration of support for the Renewable Fuel Standard.”
On the issue of trade and beef exports, Perdue said he will team-up with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad—Trump’s nominee for ambassador to China. “We will go to China and sell all the Iowa beef we can,” said Perdue. His remark drew applause from the crowd. “The Chinese will tell you they want American beef, and we’re going to figure out a way to get it to them. There are technical discussions that are difficult to reach agreement on, but we’re going to stay at it because people do business with people, and we want our foreign customers to trust us, that we are bringing them a healthy, wholesome product.”