There’s a first time for everything and we were pleased U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue chose the 90th #ICanWeWillFFA this week for his first ever National FFA Convention in Indianapolis.
On Wednesday evening at the Indiana Convention Center Perdue took questions from the media on topics ranging from the current status of the 2018 Farm Bill to the future of FFA.
Here’s how the Secretary addressed several key topics:
2018 Farm Bill
As Perdue pointed out Congress has been holding listening sessions around the country this year and the Secretary has been speaking to the chairmen of both committees and both houses fairly frequently on these issues.
“We promote at the USDA some principles of the farm bill; however, I don’t think it is my responsibility nor my job to help them draft the Farm Bill,” Perdue said.
The USDA has been providing consulting, data, information, and resources and has also been out on the road – hitting 28 states in the last six months listening to farmers and trying to understand what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and how to really create a balanced safety net.
“I think virtually all farmers in this country would rather have a good crop at a fair price, rather than a program or a payment from the government,” Perdue said. “We want to create a good balanced safety net where when nature doesn’t cooperate, then they can do it again. You never get made whole with crop insurance; you never get whole again from a program, but we don’t want it to be a career-ending situation either.”
Perdue said he thinks the 2014 Farm Bill made a lot of progress in helping to establish that insurance base litigation risk for producers.
“I think you will see more of the same,” Perdue said. “Obviously, you know cotton and dairy did not fare well in the farm bill as well as we would like so there will be some tweaks to both of those.”
While the United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer is the legal negotiator for these agreements, the USDA has put experts in foreign trade on his team to help inform of things that they believe would work and would not work. Perdue said the U.S. has put some very serious issues on the table regarding Mexico as well as Canada, particularly in the dairy supply situation and dairy supply management issue in which the “USDA feels has been an unfortunate and unfair circumstance regarding U.S. dairy producers there.”
“Frankly its early. These negotiations are almost like Congress and state legislators. They can stay there 90 days but most of the stuff gets done in the last five days. That’s just the way we work under deadlines and I expect that to be the case as well,” Perdue said. “I think NAFTA from an agriculture perspective has been extremely beneficial to all three countries and we believe all three countries really want to deal at the end of the day. I hope we can get some movement both from Mexico and Canada on our issues.”
Should FFA members get into politics and policy?
Perdue says absolutely.
“In my speech here, I think you will hear an excellent dissertation for these young people to be agvocates for American agriculture. It is strange today how blessed we are, how abundant we are, we can produce more than we consume, and how some very strange ideas not only around the world, but here in the U.S., have to do with the skepticism about the food we are producing,” Perdue said. “I think the facts and the statistics will tell you we have the most healthy, wholesome, most nutritious food supply, and abundant and affordable food supply in the world. Frankly, it’s been that way so long we have become complacent about that.”
In today’s culture, with social media and all of its benefits, Perdue said it has also been a purveyor of some misinformation and that’s why he implores young people to be aggressive agvocates for truth.
Perdue uses this proverb to explain further. “When a man has not enough to eat, it’s one problem; when he has enough to eat, he has many problems,” Perdue said. “I think in the United States we have created many problems in our head rather than in our stomach.”
How important is entrepreneurship in developing future agriculture leaders?
“The great thing about entrepreneurship is there are so many areas of agriculture today, not just production agriculture, where they can make a good living and a good livelihood for America and for the world in that regard, so I would encourage them in that,” Perdue said.
One of the things the USDA has proposed to President Trump to boost entrepreneurship is through the Rural Prosperity Task Force, and that is broadband connectivity across America.
“We want to connect America — where these young people wherever they live on the fields and farms of America — can have access to the modern 21st century electronic interstate,” Perdue said.
But we have to have infrastructure in place.
“That broadband activity can take these young people where their ability over social media and creativity — maybe a new app for agriculture or maybe a product for precision agriculture — the world is just really just at their feet about this if they have access to this infrastructure,” Perdue said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they do so that they can become those entrepreneurs of the future and in an area where their skill set, their passion, their heartbeat takes them.”
Future of FFA
According to Perdue, the USDA is in the beginning stages of trying to create an ongoing consistent program within the Farm Bill that acknowledges the benefit of a partnership between the USDA with organizations such as FFA.
“While their name originally started with future, the future is now,” Perdue said. “It’s the next moment, the next day, and these kids have something to offer and they shouldn’t wait until they graduate or are 20 or 30. When you see that kind of innovation or when you see our young minds coming out of America enterprises now, we think the future is very bright in agriculture and we would like the USDA to be involved in FFA on a formal basis.”