ARLINGTON, VA. — Regulation, trade and a reliable legal work force are the three subjects at the top of U.S. farmers’ minds, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told participants during a Feb. 22 keynote address at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 94th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum.
Mr. Perdue said the three areas of concern are based off his observations from visits he has taken to 33 states over his nine months in the top U.S.D.A. post. He encouraged participants in the audience at the forum to not wait and to “find problems and solve them.”
In terms of regulation, Mr. Perdue said President Donald Trump “has gone on the offensive to exterminate this vermin of overburdensome regulation, and I’m proud of that.”
“We’re trying to peel back all those unproductive regulations that don’t contribute to sustainability, whether it’s environmentally, ecologically or certainly economically,” Mr. Perdue explained. “I believe President Trump has done more to free us from strangling regulations in his first year than most presidents do in their full term in office.”
Mr. Perdue said the U.S.D.A. has set an aggressive agenda for the coming year — pushing for 28 final deregulatory actions. If the agency is able to accomplish its goal, there could be significant savings.
“We’re continually looking and trying to burrow out those regulations that don’t make sense, have no real protection capacity,” he said.
He encouraged participants to visit the agency’s website and comment on the regulations.
A second subject on the radar is trade, an area Mr. Perdue acknowledged there is “anxiety” about.
From a negotiation standpoint, Mr. Perdue described President Trump as “shrewd and tough,” saying he “wants the best for the American people, American agriculture and American economy.”
“I think at the end of the day he’ll strike the best deal for the American economy, and that includes American agriculture,” Mr. Perdue said.
Even in the face of challenges, American farmers are creating a bounty of products, Mr. Perdue said.
“We know we have a growing global middle class, and that’s good news,” he said. “The first thing a growing middle class wants is a better diet, and they show that time and time again. American producers are going to be there ready for them.”
As countries around the world demand better products, the opportunities for U.S. agriculture to enter new markets will expand, Mr. Perdue said. He said the U.S.D.A. hopes to be able to make deals to export to India and the European Union free from restrictions.
“It’s amazing the barriers that are put up in a protectionist way that our farmers and ranchers have to overcome,” he said. “And that’s one of our goals at U.S.D.A. is to continue to erode those barriers for trade that are placed there by countries by working every day from a sales perspective, from a U.S. Trade Representative perspective, from a W.T.O. enforcement perspective.”
He identified several recent success stories of the United States knocking down barriers, including the return of American beef back into China after a 13-year hiatus and the lifting of bans on D.D.G.S. into Vietnam.
U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to climb to $140 billion in fiscal 2018, according to a Nov. 30 report from the Economic Research Service of the U.S.D.A. U.S. grain and feed exports for the 2018 fiscal year are forecast at $29.4 billion, due mainly to coarse grains and feeds and fodders, according to the U.S.D.A. Corn exports are forecast at $8.5 billion on both higher volumes and unit values.
The final concern mentioned many times during Mr. Perdue’s U.S. tour has revolved around the work force. He said many in the agricultural industry have concerns about securing a reliable, legal work force.
“It’s no secret that agriculture is kind of caught in a crossfire of some of the immigration debate,” he said.
In presenting the topic to participants at the Ag Outlook Forum, Mr. Perdue expressed a belief that many individuals probably just want to come to the United States and work in the ag industry. He said most are not taking jobs from Americans and most are not committing crimes.
“I want to make sure agriculture is supplied with a legal work force,” he said.