Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue commends American farmers, is optimistic about trade and 2020

Sonny Perdue, the 31st secretary of agriculture, addressed a massive room of farmers and ranchers attending the 2020 Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas, Feb. 28. Perdue spoke mainly on the subjects of trade, productivity and sustainability.

He said agriculture over the last 75 years has been incredibly efficient and productive, but the industry needs to be celebrated and applauded for its achievements.

“We’ve got to get the message out and I want to use the megaphone to talk about the productivity of American agriculture and what it means, not just to farm families, but farm communities and every consumers in this country as we go forward,” Perdue said.

Infrastructure had been a common speaking topic at Commodity Classic, and Perdue used the previous discussions to segue into an announcement about broadband internet.

“You live in a place in this country where your family and you as production agriculturists deserve to be connected to the world through broadband internet and that’s what we’re doing,” he explained. “There’s so much technology out there that you use today that depends on connectivity and your families deserve that too. Your kids shouldn’t have to drive to town just to do their homework.”

Perdue says another $1.1 billion has been devoted to broadband connectivity in rural areas and he encouraged those who have poor internet connectivity in their communities to contact their congressman about the issue. 

Finding trade solutions

Perdue used a large portion of his keynote to focus on trade and what President Donald Trump is working toward as it pertains to agriculture.

“We produce more than we could ever consume here in this nation and that means exports are always an important part of our whole economic business model,” Perdue said. “When I took this job three years ago, there were three problems: trade, trade, trade. We’ve seen a president who is willing to reset this whole trade system and he recognized that we had not been treated fairly, and took steps to right that.”

Perdue said President Trump is striving for fair trade and a reciprocal relationship where the productivity of the American farmer can go around the world. He cited the new deal with China, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and deals with Japan and Korea along with several other trade pacts that are evidence administration has been making on improving agriculture trade opportunities.

“What we’re working to do is spread out our commodities around the world so we don’t become overly dependent on any one customer in the future, such as with China and soybeans,” Perdue added. “We want to clear the path so you focus on what you do best, which is to produce safe, reliable and abundant food and feed and fuel for America and the world’s growing population, which you’ve done so wonderfully.”

As President Trump had just addressed the nation on the coronavirus epidemic and agriculture commodity markets had plummeted in the wake of the virus’ spread to the U.S., Perdue briefly mentioned the effect it was having on trade.

“Hopefully we can get by this coronavirus pandemic very quickly and get back to trade.”

Perdue’s underlying message on the subject of trade was to hold steady and wait for markets to stabilize and trade to improve while knowing the president will protect agriculture as best he can.

“In 2020, do what you do and plan for the market,” Perdue said. “We believe we will see prices rise as these commodities start flowing in and you need to look at your operation and what really makes sense and do that. The president said if these trades don’t materialize, I can tell you one thing, this president will not let farmers suffer if trade continues to be disrupted by any kind of force. He’s got your back and I can guarantee you he will do what he says he will.”

Promote our already sustainable industry

Next, Perdue brought up the topic of sustainability, which has been a major buzzword swirling around agriculture as of late.

“If you look at the productivity of American agriculture tripling and quadrupling over the last 70 to 90 years and using 10% less arable acres—that’s real sustainability,” Perdue said. “Different people have different ideas of what sustainability is, but I would submit to you that sustainability has three pillars: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability.”

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Perdue said farmers have to be cognizant of protecting the environment, feeding everyone socially, but also being able to make a living in the act of feeding the world. He championed American farmers for their tireless work to balance the three pillars of sustainability and vowed to start recognizing agriculture’s hard work more in the future.

“We need to tell people the truth about what’s happening out here based on sound science and transparency,” he said. “Consumers want to know that. We’ve got an obligation not only to do it, but to talk about how we’re doing it and environment sustainability is a big part of that. We’ve got the facts to back it up in our department and we need to start talking about it. We’ve got a social responsibility to provide affordable, available food not only for our country, but for the world. God’s blessed us with a great and fertile country and we’ve got to help feed people wherever they live across this globe and I want to thank you for doing a great job of that already.”

In closing, Perdue said he has known the thrill of a good crop and a great price, but also the despair and devastation of droughts, and he acknowledged how much of a struggle 2019 was for agriculture. He said the Market Facilitation Program and the disaster programs have helped producers and the president will continue to support agriculture through rough times. Although agriculture took some hits in 2019, Perdue was confident the atmosphere would improve in 2020.

“2020 is going to be a great year. We’re going to grow more, we’re going to sell more, we’re going to be more profitable and more productive, and we’re going to ‘get ‘er done.’”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or [email protected].