Great Falls Tribune: U.S. Ag Secretary Purdue coming to Great Falls

Montana Sen. Steve Daines announced Wednesday that newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will deliver a keynote address at the 2017 Montana Ag Summit in Great Falls five weeks from now.

The Montana Ag Summit, co-sponsored by Daines and the Montana Chamber Foundation, will take place in Great Falls on May 31 and June 1. It will bring some of the nation’s highest-profile agricultural leaders to Montana’s Golden Triangle to meet with the public and discuss ongoing efforts to strengthen Montana agriculture’s international relationships, showcase current technological advancements and examine the challenges of federal policies and regulations for both the current and future generations of farmers and ranchers.

“I’m excited to host Secretary Perdue in Montana for the Montana Ag Summit,” Daines stated in a prepared news release. “This will be a great opportunity for Secretary Perdue to see Montana’s number one economic driver firsthand and talk with our hardworking farmers and ranchers. Nothing replaces seeing our state and hearing what’s on the minds of Montanans.”

The Former Georgia governor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 24 as secretary of the Agriculture Department. The vote was 87 to 11, with both Daines and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) voting to approve him as ag secretary.

Perdue faced few obstacles during his confirmation hearings. He received endorsements from hundreds of food and agricultural groups nationwide, including major groups such as the Farm Bureau and the National Restaurant Association, and gained praise from Republicans and Democrats alike.

“Our farmers and ranchers have long been waiting for this important role to be filled,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said prior to the vote to confirm Perdue. “Once Gov. Perdue becomes Secretary Perdue, I know he will put the needs of farmers and ranchers — and rural America — first.”

Roberts also will attend next month’s Montana Ag Summit, bringing his added prestige and authority to an event which will also include the acting chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the president of the United Grain Corporation and the president of Northwest Farm Credit Services.

Perdue, 70, grew up on a Georgia farm and worked as a veterinarian before beginning his political career in the 1990s. He is viewed as both a fiscal conservative and an immigration hawk, who shepherded passage of some of the nation’s toughest measures against illegal immigration during his two terms as the governor of Georgia.

As secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Perdue will face near immediate controversy. President Trump has proposed a 21 percent reduction in the department’s budget, and his aggressive stance on halting illegal immigration has caused anxiety within some segments of the ag economy, which relies heavily upon foreign labor to get the crops planted, cared for and harvested.

During his confirmation hearings, Perdue told senators that he supports many of the programs that could be cut by Trump’s budget, particularly those that focus on agricultural research and rural infrastructure development.

Another hurdle for U.S. agriculture on the near horizon will be passage of the next Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill took over three years to hammer out, leaving the country without federal legislation on agriculture and food subsidy programs for more than a year and a half.