U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), recognizing the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.
As part of a reorganization, Perdue also announced that a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area will have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field. Finally, Perdue announced that the department’s Rural Development agencies would be elevated to report directly to the secretary of agriculture in recognition of the need to help promote rural prosperity.
Perdue issued a report to announce the changes, Congressional direction in the 2014 Farm Bill , to create the new undersecretary for trade, and also serves as a down payment on President Trump’s request of his cabinet to deliver plans to improve the accountability and customer service provided by departments.
“Food is a noble thing to trade,” Perdue said. “This nation has a great story to tell and we've got producers here that produce more than we can consume. Our people in American agriculture have shown they can grow it, and we’re here to sell it in markets all around the world.”
Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs
The change recognizes the importance of agriculture to America’s economy. U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production, and every dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity. Additionally, every $1 billion in U.S. agricultural exports supports approximately 8,000 American jobs across the entire American economy. As the global marketplace becomes even more competitive every day, the United States must position itself in the best way possible to retain its standing as a world leader.
“Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world. By working side by side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world,” Perdue said.
USDA’s reorganization seeks to place agencies in more logical order. Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which deals with overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which handles domestic issues, were housed under one mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency (RMA). Now, FAS will operate under the new undersecretary for trade.
AG GROUPS RESPOND
Agriculture commodity organizations offered mostly positive support for the change.
“The National Corn Growers Association has long advocated for a dedicated position at USDA focused on increasing U.S. agricultural exports, and we pushed for this provision in the 2014 farm bill. We are pleased to see that post finally become a reality today,” said NCGA President Wesley Spurlock.
“Secretary Perdue’s announcement signals to farm country that the Trump Administration is listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. In this farm economy, trade is more important than ever to farmers’ incomes. Overseas markets represent 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 87 percent of economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s customers. Now is the time for U.S. agriculture to fully capitalize on the long-term, increased global demand for our products around the world. Today’s announcement is a big step toward that goal.
David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), said the reorganization recognizes the importance of trade to U.S. agriculture.
“NAWG applauds the USDA for emphasizing the importance of trade by creating a specific mission area devoted to the Department’s trade programs,” Schemm said. “This move highlights the significance that programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program play in promoting wheat and other ag commodities all over the world.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway applauded the reorganization and singled out creation of the Undersecretary for Trade post as significant.
“I commend Secretary Perdue and the Administration for, after just two weeks in office, putting forward a thoughtful reorganization plan that seeks to ensure all the critical mission areas at USDA are operating efficiently and effectively,” Conaway said. “I look forward to the new Undersecretary for Trade playing an active role in gaining additional market access for our products, while working to ensure that our trading partners honor the commitments they have made.
“The committee will take a very close look at each of the proposed changes, and this will be one of many important topics we cover when the Secretary appears before the committee next week."
Perdue also noted other reorganization efforts.
Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation
A new undersecretary will be selected for a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which is to focus on domestic agricultural issues. Locating FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under this domestically-oriented undersecretary will provide a simplified one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers, the men and women farming, ranching, and foresting across America.
The undersecretary for natural resources and environment will retain supervision of the U.S. Forest Service. A reduction in USDA workforce is not part of the reorganization plan.
Elevating Rural Development
The USDA reorganization will elevate the Rural Development agencies to report directly to the secretary of agriculture to ensure that rural America always has a seat at the table. Fighting poverty wherever it exists is a challenge facing the U.S., and the reality is that nearly 85 percent of America's persistently impoverished counties are in rural areas.
Rural childhood poverty rates are at their highest point since 1986, affecting one in four rural children, with deep poverty among children being more prevalent in rural areas (12.2 percent) than in urban areas (9.2 percent). The vitality of small towns across our nation is crucial to the future of the agricultural economy and USDA must always argue for the needs of rural America.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, NSAC, expressed dismay over what it terms a demotion of the Rural Development Mission Area.
“NSAC is deeply troubled by the proposal to eliminate the Rural Development Mission Area and to demote Rural Development to ‘office’ status,” read a statement released shortly after Perdue’s announcement.
“This demotion, taken together with the Administration’s recent attempt to wipe out rural business programs through the appropriations process, sends a clear signal that the President does not understand the critical nature of rural development to the American economy. NSAC is committed to working with our 118 member organizations, senators and representatives from across the country, and our allies in the rural and agricultural communities to reverse this misguided decision,” the statement continued.
USDA’s report detailing the reorganization was transmitted to Congress Thursday morning. You may click here to view the report on the USDA website. USDA employees and members of the public may comment on the reorganization plan by visiting this page hosted by the White House.