WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2017 - President-elect Donald Trump made it official this morning, naming former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as his choice for Agriculture Secretary, drawing an immediate endorsement from a lawmaker who will play a key role in Perdue's confirmation process.
“I'm delighted,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said when asked about Trump's choice. He called Perdue a “strong leader” who, while coming from the South, “understands that he'll be a secretary … for all Americans.” When asked if he would be good for expanding farm exports, the Kansas Republican replied, “Amen, brother.” The top Democrat on Roberts' panel, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, held back any endorsement, saying “we'll see.” She said she'll have to talk to Perdue before making a decision.
In a release from the Trump transition team, the president-elect predicted that Perdue would “accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture.”
“From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land,” Trump said.
For his part, Perdue said he would be proud to serve as Trump's Agriculture Secretary. “Beginning as a simple Georgia farm boy, making sure Americans who make their livelihood in the agriculture industry are thriving is near and dear to my heart, and I'm going to champion the concerns of American agriculture and work tirelessly to solve the issues facing our farm families in this new role.”
Trump picked Perdue, a longtime rural agribusinessman who originally trained as a veterinarian, after the longest search for a USDA chief in modern history. Other candidates who were considered include former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado; Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.: former Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla, and former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano.
Perdue, 70, served two terms as Georgia's governor, from 2003 to 2011, and was an original member of Trump's agricultural advisory team, announced in August. Although he has a doctorate in veterinary medicine, he spent much of his career in the grain and fertilizer business in rural Georgia after leaving the Air Force in 1974.
Some key legislators didn't specifically endorse Perdue, but said they were looking forward to working with him, especially as Congress starts debating the next farm bill. They include House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and the committee's ranking member, Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
“As we begin working on the next farm bill, the secretary will play a vital role in implementing positive changes for our producers and must understand every aspect of the job at hand,” Conaway said in a statement. “We need someone who is willing to work every day with the mindset of protecting America's farmers and ranchers, especially when it comes to introducing regulatory actions.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said the Agriculture Secretary needs to have an appreciation of the institution of the family farm, “like we have in Iowa and the Midwest,” and that he looks forward to meeting with Perdue and learning his views on agriculture.
Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer who is now president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that Perdue is a strong administrator whose “roots go back to the farm.” Duvall, who was president of the Georgia Farm Bureau while Perdue was governor, said Perdue “always had an open door to farmers,” and he “understands agriculture and its importance to our country and its citizens.”
Other agricultural groups welcoming Trump's choice include the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Farm Credit Council, the American Soybean Association, the North American Meat Institute, the National Cotton Council and the Agricultural Retailers Association.
Western Growers also offered its support. Tom Nassif, the group's CEO, said that Perdue has been a “consummate champion for agriculture.” He said his organization is hoping Perdue will be a “relentless advocate for immigration reform” that provides farmers with the work force they need.
Mike Strain, president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said he's looking forward to working with Perdue on a number of its priorities, including the next farm bill, expanding export opportunities for U.S. producers and “fostering a regulatory environment that allows agriculture to thrive.”
Some environmental organizations criticized Trump's choice.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said Perdue was unlikely to buck agribusiness. “It's certainly hard to imagine that a former fertilizer salesman will tackle the unregulated farm pollution that poisons our drinking water, turns Lake Erie green, and fouls the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico,” Faber said. He also criticized Perdue's nomination because of his farm subsidies. EWG's records show that while he collected $278,679 in commodity subsidies between 1995 and 2004, he hasn't received any since then.
Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Perdue's background indicates he'll be a protector of “Big Ag interests” at a time when America needs a Secretary of Agriculture “who's responsive to a host of current concerns, from healthy food production and safe water quality to biodiversity and the impact of climate change.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, meanwhile, noted Perdue's “substantial experience in governing and in agriculture," adding that the group hopes that, if confirmed, Perdue “will honor the Trump transition team's pledge to focus on rural communities and family farms as a key part of the Trump movement.”
(Phil Brasher contributed to this report.)
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