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Perdue shakes up USDA structure with emphasis on trade

CINCINNATI (May 16, 2017) — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the USDA on May 11, acknowledging the importance of international trade to American agriculture.
Perdue made the announcement standing by barges filled with agricultural products along the banks of the Ohio River.
As part of a reorganization of USDA, Perdue also announced the standing up of a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area to 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.
“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. And that’s good, because I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. Our people in American agriculture have shown they can grow it, and we’re here to sell it in markets all around the world.”
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.
“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.
Perdue said elevating the Rural Development agencies to report directly to the secretary of agriculture to ensures that rural America always has a seat at the table. 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 economic health of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy. It is my commitment to always argue for the needs of rural America, which is why we are elevating Rural Development within USDA,” said Perdue. “No doubt, the opportunity we have here at the USDA in rural development is unmatched.”
The Rural Development move drew sharp criticism from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a group with 118 member organizations.
In a statement last week, NSAC said the undersecretary in the current Rural Development Mission Area already reports to the USDA secretary and under the new structure, the agency’s status would be reduced.
“While the Administration has attempted to spin the demotion of Rural Develop as an “elevation” – arguing that because the office would report directly to the Secretary, rural development needs will receive greater attention – it is in fact a trading away of rural, domestic priorities in favor of boosting international trade,” NSAC said.
USDA’s reorganization seeks to place agencies in a more logical order, the department said in a news release last week. Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service, which deals with overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency, which handles domestic issues, were housed under one mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency. Under the reorganization, FAS will fall under the new undersecretary for trade.
Additionally, a new undersecretary will be selected for a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which is to focus on domestic agricultural issues. The department said 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.