For the second time in a week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told lawmakers that government is a greater threat to U.S. farmers than drought or disease. And in nearly the same words at two House hearings, he offered the might of the U.S. government to boost farm income through larger food and ag exports.
“People in agriculture used to fear disease and drought as the greatest threats to their livelihoods and their mission of feeding their neighbors and the world,” said Perdue in statements submitted as testimony but not read aloud. “Those hazards remain, but now too often it is the government — through interference and regulation — that poses the existential threat to American farmers and producers. We aim to stop that.”
At hearings before the House Agriculture Committee and a House Appropriations subcommittee, Perdue pointed to his leadership of an inter-agency task force to seek regulatory flexibility for agriculture. And he said the Trump administration was committed to larger farm exports and to rewriting trade agreements to favor U.S. goods.
“We have not been very good enforcers on behalf of our producers,” he told the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA’s budget.
When Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop asked about an administration proposal to eliminate the cost-sharing Market Access Program, created as a market development tool, Perdue said, “You’re not going to see exports decrease. We are going to sell it.”
The USDA is to update on Friday its forecast of farm exports for the current fiscal year. Its most recent estimate, released in February, was $136 billion, ending a two-year slump since a record $152.3 billion in sales in fiscal 2013.
Perdue joined U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer in a closed meeting with House Agriculture Committee members, to discuss farm trade policy, after testifying at the Appropriations subcommittee. “We need to ensure that agriculture is treated fairly in any future trade deals,” said the lead Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, in a committee statement. Lighthizer said “truly free and fair agricultural trade raises wages and fuels our economy.”