Nuggets gleaned from USDA Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue’s “town hall” meeting at Eckert’s Orchards in Belleville, IL this morning!
Perdue was the Special Guest at a “Farmers Forum” hosted by 12th District Illinois Congressman Mike Bost. Arriving in casual attire and sporting a farmer’s cap, the folksy Perdue greeted attendees warmly and said he was there to listen and take questions. With questions mostly from farmers, here were the answers I found most enlightening:
Question: “We understand the mitigation payment to farmers for the tariff-related drop in prices is to be in two halves. You said recently that the 2nd half payment might not match the 1st half. What did you mean by that?”
Perdue’s Answer: “We would prefer to take action that halts the drop in export sales and mitigates some of the price drop linked to the tariffs so the 2nd payment may not have to be as much. That’s what I was referring to when I made those remarks.”
Question: “How could exports recover when China accounts for over half U.S. soybean sales?”
Perdue’s Answer: “Part of the price loss mitigation package was increased funding for our Market Assistance Program (MAP) to grow markets for U.S. grain in other countries. It isn’t healthy for our soybean sales to be so dependent on one big customer, whether there are tariff disputes or not.”
Question: “What’s the prognosis for getting a new farm bill when disagreement over increased work requirements for SNAP (food stamps) is so bitterly opposed by the Democrats?”
Perdue’s answer: “The increased work requirements weren’t that onerous. They said that if you were able-bodied and didn’t qualify for various exemptions, you had to work at least 20 hours per week or prove you’d been looking for work. The opposition is mostly about money and isn’t limited to Democrats. I was governor of Georgia and I understand well that states have a vested interest in pulling as much money from Washington as possible, including food stamps.”
Question: “We’re heading towards the end of the pricing period for base prices protected by crop insurance. It’s tied to 4-year average prices, but this past year prices were hurt bad by the tariff disputes. Any chance 2019 base prices for crop insurance might take that into account and be calculated a bit higher?”
Perdue answer: “We’re working hard to restore lost export business and prices, but you make a very valid point. I will take this to our Risk Management Agency at USDA and consider that.”
Question: “As farmers, we really appreciate President Trump’s decision to allow the sale of E-15 year-round. But is there anything USDA can do to help boost the demand for ethanol?”
Perdue answer: “E15 sales aren’t going to take off overnight because only flex-fuel vehicles can use it and retailers are reluctant to tie up underground tanks for a fuel with limited demand. One thing we can do, however, is to reduce the number of smaller refiners getting exemptions from Renewable Fuel Standard blending requirements.” (Applause on that one!)
Question: “The St. Louis Agribusiness Club is looking for ways to promote ag in the classroom in our city. We keep hearing there’s just no interest among students or funding for ag teachers. Is there any way USDA can help?”
Perdue answer: “That sort of thing has to originate at the local level. USDA works closely with land grant college ag departments and state extension services and I recommend you tap those first. But there are other models working through 4-H and FFA. In fact, there’s a successful FFA program at a high school in Queens, NY with a waiting list of students wanting to get in. That might be a good model!”
As the questions ceased, Perdue wrapped it up by thanking Congressman Bost for inviting him and thanked those of us in the audience for coming. Then he got a standing ovation when he closed with, “If you have other questions for me, but didn’t want to ask them here in front of everybody, just send an email to www.usda.gov/asksonny.