DES MOINES, Iowa, Aug. 5, 2017 - The Trump administration is considering co-locating some local offices of agencies in the Agriculture Department, Interior Department and Army Corps of Engineers with an eye toward streamlining permitting processes, says Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The discussions are still in the early stages, but Perdue said in a speech to the 2017 Iowa Ag Summit that the idea was to reduce conflicting decisions, so “you don’t get one answer from agency and another agency says no … and you’re caught in the middle. In agriculture we’ve gotten some of those mixed signals before, and they’re very frustrating.” He said conflicting decisions and delays hindered infrastructure projects.
Perdue specifically criticized the Corps of Engineers, which enforces the Clean Water Act’s protections for wetlands and waterways, He said the agency “creates a lot of issues among our farmers” and “needs to be reined back in a little bit.”
Perdue also used the speech to announce a new effort to match volunteer mentors with young farmers to help them develop business plans and guide them through decisions. The mentors will be provided by SCORE, an organization that already works with the Small Business Association to provide mentors to business owners. SCORE will be signing up older farmers and others to serve as mentors under the partnership with USDA.
Perdue called on farmers who are at the “dusk of your career” to sign up for the program. The Farm Service Agency will in turn be referring applicants for loans and other assistance to the SCORE mentors.
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As for the interagency cooperation, Perdue told reporters after the speech that the idea is to create a “one-stop shop for people who have to have permits.”
He said he was already talking to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about co-locating offices with the Bureau of Land Management, which together with USDA’s Forest Service, controls vast tracts in the West. Perdue also said he has discussed the streamlining issue with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, but noted that the Army Corps of Engineers did not have a Senate-confirmed leader yet. He didn’t elaborate on his criticism of the Corps of Engineers.
“We’re talking about all of us working together. That’s going to be one of the benefits of this administration,” Perdue said. “The president has told us to get together and figure it out.” He said there was no intention of weakening regulations. “But the better we can do in coordinating the paper processing and the permitting processing, the environmental studies that need to be done … the better off we are,” he said.
After the speech, Perdue signed the MOU with Steve Records, vice president of field operations for Herndon, Va.-based SCORE, which currently has 11,000 mentors, half of whom are still working.
“If you have a business mentor you are twice as likely to be in business five years later than if you don’t have a business mentor,” Records said, speaking later on a panel at the Des Moines conference.
SCORE’s challenge is getting farmers to know they need a mentor and to seek the help before it’s too late. “All too often we have businesses come to SCORE and ask for help when we could have helped more six months before they asked.”
USDA officials believe the SCORE mentorship program will help make the Farm Service Agency’s lending programs more effective.
“Sometimes the best answer may be, ‘Don’t try it, don’t do it.’ Sometimes a banker will tell you you don’t need to be doing that,” Perdue told reporters. Having a mentor can make young farmers “better producers by the fact of making them be better business people.”
The Iowa Ag Summit was sponsored by Summit Agricultural Group, whose president and CEO, Bruce Rastetter, organized a similar event in 2015 to provide a forum for the presidential candidates. He plans a third summit next March.