Perdue, Roberts star at Montana Ag Summit

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has a goal of having a federal budget providing adequate safety nets for both producers and those who cannot afford food while admitting spending cuts are necessary to get the federal debt under control.

Speaking at Montana Ag Summit in Great Falls, June 1, Perdue discussed the proposed 2018 fiscal year budget, in which President Donald Trump has proposed a $193 billion cut—or 25 percent—in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over 10 years, a 36 percent cut in crop insurance, elimination of the major U.S. food aid program, a cutback in conservation programs and the elimination of many rural development programs.

“I’m a data-driven, facts-based, sound science decisionmaker who is absolutely impassioned and focused on customer service,” Perdue said during his keynote address to the audience of 700 as reported by The Great Falls Tribune. “When you have dealings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I want to put a smile on your face that will make you say, ‘If that’s the kind of service I’m going to get, I don’t mind paying my taxes.’”

He also said domestic feeding ought to be to be a “hand up and a help out” rather than a permanent lifestyle.

“It is not in the heart of America to want to see anyone go hungry. And we don’t want to see that happen,” Perdue said. “Americans are compassionate and the USDA will be compassionate as we administer that program (SNAP). You know, on the other hand, I don’t think it ought to be a permanent lifestyle, either.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, as well as the Summit’s host, Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, joined Perdue for a roundtable discussion. Much of the discussion centered on making USDA more customer friendly and to amend or eliminate federal regulations that hamper farm and ranch production in the U.S.

“We are right now at the USDA cataloging and categorizing all the regulations that are impediments to your production capacity,” Perdue said, according to the Tribune’s story.

“We’re going to look at removing some of those, changing some of those so that when you get our of your pickup every morning you’re not afraid you’re violating some federal rule or regulation.”

A frequent reference was made abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Rule on the Waters of the United States, particularly on jurisdiction over small streams and wetlands.

“It’s pretty hard to deal with somebody who has an agenda,” Roberts said. “And the past administration, with all due respect, had an agenda. You’d go in to talk to some troop at some federal agency and you’d say, we need some relief here. We need to tweak this regulation or kill it because it doesn’t make sense.

“But they (the Obama administration) had an agenda,” Roberts said. “They’d just go right ahead and do it. That’s what happened with WOTUS, endangered species and a whole lot of other stuff. That’s changing now. That’s changing because of Sonny Perdue. That’s changing because of other secretaries and it’s changing because of President Trump. We’re fighting back.”

Daines said since China has now lifted a ban on the import of U.S. beef that had been in place since 2004, ranchers could reasonably expect beef exports to China to rise substantially, both in the near term and down the road.

“What this gives us in China is a level playing field,” Daines said. “We can beat Brazilian beef, we can beat Australian beef because the Chinese recognize that the highest quality beef in the world is U.S. beef.

“In the long term, China is the second largest beef import market in the world and growing rapidly,” he added. “This is about future cow-calf operations as we think about long-term global competitiveness.”

Perdue, for his part, linked reduced government subsidies to growing foreign export possibilities, according to the Tribune story.

“I don’t think there’s a single farmer that I’ve ever met that would rather have a government program than a good crop at a fair price. We (the USDA) have created a Secretary of Trade because we feel like, if you (farmers and ranchers) can produce, it’s our obligation to go find a market for it and sell it at a good price.”