USDA Secretary visits Kentucky
(A version of this article appears in the April 19, 2018 edition of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
Sonny Perdue made it clear from the beginning that he was more interested in listening than talking.
The Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture recently made a two-day sweep through the northeastern and central portions of the Commonwealth as a part of his “Back to Our Roots Tour,” visiting farms, attending public listening sessions and participating in panel discussions to learn first-hand the concerns of producers, consumers and agriculture industry leaders. He was joined by Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles for stops in Mason, Rowan and Montgomery Counties before winding up at Keeneland in Lexington.
Perdue’s appearance and demeanor were less of a Washington politician and more of the folksy, down-home favorite uncle just stopping by for a visit. He was open and friendly, and his audiences responded to him in-kind, repeatedly thanking him for coming and remarking that it has been a long time since the USDA was lead by someone with his farming background and credentials.
Perdue’s staff passed out cards at each stop, providing information on how to contact the Secretary’s office by phone or through the website www.usda.gov/tellsonny.
“We’re serious about this,” Perdue told an audience at the Chenault Agriculture Center in Mt. Sterling, a 300-acre working farm operated by Montgomery County High School. “That’s why I’m out here traveling. We’re coming to the ground floor and saying ‘what are the impediments, what are the barriers, what are the regulatory issues.’”
Perdue said that dealing with onerous regulations has been a major focus of his administration, noting that “in this environment, deregulation – taking regulations off – is about as difficult as putting them on and it takes much too long, in my opinion.”
Kentucky native Rebeckah Adcock, a senior advisor at USDA and former Director of Natural Resources at Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, has been tasked with examining regulations and expediting the changes the Department wants to make. “We’re on track to have upwards of $70 million in savings,” Adcock said, referring to the 90-plus actions already identified with possibly more to come. “We’ll be at this process, trying to systemically change how we do business and how we regulate.”
At a listening session at Hinton Mills in May’s Lick, Perdue got just what he was asking for from Kentucky Soybean Association President Larry Thomas. Thomas shared concerns about what many considered the elephant in the room, President Trump’s tariff and trade spat with China, which could potentially affect a number of American agricultural exports, among them, soybeans and pork.
“Talks with the President are ongoing, and the Secretary doesn’t want to show his hand just yet,” Thomas said in a phone interview. “Secretary Perdue said that the President has given him his word that he won’t forget agriculture in the trade talks.”
Perdue was listening. He didn’t offer any magic elixirs or silver bullets to solve the many challenges currently facing agriculture, he only wanted to know what the stakeholders considered their priorities.
The stops along the Secretary’s tour were many and varied, as were the topics that arose in the various discussions that took place. Rural broadband, struggles in the dairy industry, the future of Kentucky’s hemp projects and clean, available water were but a few of the topics broached with Perdue as he made his circuit.
Perdue’s quick wit and affable nature were on display as well. Visiting with Danny Townsend at Townsend’s Sorghum Mill in Montgomery County, the Secretary was impressed with the number of products being made from the grain. He inquired if Townsend had ever considered manufacturing any hair care products.
Both men are bald.