WASHINGTON, DC – This morning the agriculture industry anxiously watched as former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue was questioned for more than two hours by Members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry seeking his confirmation as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Perdue was the last Cabinet nomination announced by President Trump in January and is the last of the Cabinet nominees to come before their jurisdictional committee in the Senate, but likely not the last to be confirmed.
U.S. agriculture has been nervous about the future of the USDA and agriculture programs since the President’s “skinny budget” proposal was released last week with 21 percent of discretionary funding slashed for FY 2018. Much of today’s hearing focused on assurances that Perdue will defend the USDA’s funding and protect programs with strong, successful track records, including conservation programs.
In his opening testimony, Perdue said, “American agricultural bounty comes directly from the land. And today, those land resources sustain more than 320 million Americans and countless millions more around the globe. My father’s words still ring in my ears, ‘Son, if you take care of the land, it will take care of you. Owned or rented, we’re all stewards, and our responsibility is to leave it better than we found it.’ Should I be confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, we will safeguard that trust, maintaining always our responsibility as good stewards. That means supporting private landowners in their conservation efforts and managing the natural resources entrusted directly to the Department.”
Senator John Boozman (R-AR) was quick to point out the role agriculture plays in his state along with the importance of opening new markets. “In Arkansas, Cuba would be a very important market with rice production and various other things,” he stated.
Boozman asked, “Can you talk a little bit about efforts that you would take [to open] other markets throughout the world?”
Perdue shared his support for opening agricultural markets, saying, “Specific to Cuba…I think we would love to have Cuba as a customer.” Following a 2010 trip to Cuba he found “as much of the problem there regarding demand was the ability to pay and the ability to finance. They are certainly appropriate customers for the rice Louisiana grows and Arkansas grows.”
Recognizing the ball is in Congress’ court, he indicated, “I would support their efforts if we could get private financing.”
Longtime Committee Member, rice-state Senator, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations Thad Cochran (R-MS) added, “I’m confident that you’re going to do a fine job and we look forward to working closely with you to identify problems when they arise.”
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will still need to meet, likely next week, to vote to advance Perdue to the full Senate for consideration. USA Rice joined more than 650 other agriculture organizations last month in a letter
endorsing the swift confirmation of Governor Perdue as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture.