NEVADA, IOWA, May 5, 2017 – Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue highlighted the benefits of renewable energy and the need for export markets in a Friday speech to Iowa producers.
The speech was billed as Perdue’s first major farm policy speech, but the secretary mostly hit on familiar points such as the need for improved communication about U.S. agriculture, his commitment to trade, and his understanding of the need for a stable workforce. Perdue also made light of the regional divides in agricultural policy, saying in his Southern accent that despite his Georgia roots, he’d be “happy to be an adoptive Iowa son.”
Speaking on a beef cattle farm in rural Iowa, Perdue touched on one of the most critical policy points to Iowa agriculture: the Renewable Fuel Standard. Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, presented Perdue with a button bearing the slogan “Don’t mess with the RFS,” a charge the secretary vowed to uphold.
“Renewable energy, ethanol, is here to stay. We’re going to look for new technologies to be even more efficient,” Perdue said, making a point to mention President Donald Trump’s position on the issue as well. “We’re not going to mess with the RFS.”
In a statement, Shaw said IRFA “appreciated” Perdue’s stated support of the RFS, and that the organization will “fully expect he will continue the USDA’s legacy in this area and continue to aggressively pursue greater access to renewable fuels at the pump.”
On the issue of trade and beef exports, Perdue said he was going to team up with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad – Trump’s nominee for the ambassadorship to China – to “go to China and sell all the Iowa beef we can,” a remark that drew welcome applause from the assembled crowd.
“The Chinese will tell you they want American beef, and we’re going to figure out a way to get it to them,” Perdue said. “These are technical discussions that are tough, but we’re going to stay at it because people do business with people, and we want them to trust us that we’re bringing them a healthy, wholesome product.”
Beyond just China, Perdue said he wanted to build on the already established trust of the USDA inspection process in international markets.
“That USDA stamp is a Good Housekeeping seal of approval worldwide,” he said. “That’s what people want.”
Speaking to reporters after his remarks, Perdue also noted that “we’re looking at really a six-month period” for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Perdue has been credited in media reports for staving off President Trump’s desired withdrawal from the agreement, instead helping to convince him to renegotiate the deal.
This is the second stop in the heartland for Perdue in just over a week. Perdue visited USDA facilities in Kansas City during his first week on the job, where he promoted efficiency in the workplace and a desire to make the USDA “the most fun government” place to work. However, faced with a 21 percent budget cut proposed by the administration, he also said employees will have to do more with less.
Perdue plans to visit USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service facilities in Ames before he leaves Iowa late Friday afternoon.
Perdue, Northey mum on deputy rumors
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey was present at the event, but talk of his potential role at USDA was limited to responding to questions. Northey told reporters that he’s been involved in conversations about a potential role and that he was “very, very comfortable with how those have gone.” However, he also said he hasn’t received a job offer.
“I sure hope we know some of those things sooner rather than later, but I don’t know what that timing will be,” Northey said. “I know he’s putting a diverse team together. I don’t know whether I’d be a part of that or not. We’ll have to let that play out.”
Northey has reportedly been a top candidate for the Deputy Secretary job at USDA, which would provide a Midwest voice near the top of a USDA headed by someone from the South.
When asked about his plans for staffing USDA by a member of the crowd, Perdue said he wanted to fill open positions “as soon as possible.”
“You’ll probably hear some announcements in the next couple of weeks,” Perdue said. “We’ve got to get these people through the process … I’ve even had some suggestions from Iowa about some good people.”
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