Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced a reorganization of his agency that shows a clear emphasis on trade – a priority of this Administration’s – and a philosophical shift on policy priorities at the farm level – both of which are in line with USA Rice initiatives.
An Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs (TFAA) has finally been created; the position was included in the 2014 Farm Bill but never filled by Secretary Vilsack. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), that is vital to the rice industry, has been pulled away from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Risk Management Agency (RMA) and placed under the auspices of the new TFAA.
FAS manages the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, that together provided USA Rice with more than $4 million this year to help develop U.S. rice markets and promote American-grown rice overseas.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), also important for rice, remains under the Marketing and Regulatory programs Under Secretary at USDA, however as a means of facilitating communication among all agricultural trade components, the new TFAA will chair an inter-agency committee including FAS, APHIS, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), and the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS).
“U.S. agricultural exports have quadrupled over the past 40 years so it makes sense to have a component of USDA completely devoted to trade,” said Carl Brothers, chair of USA Rice’s International Trade Policy Committee. “With 50 percent of the U.S. rice crop exported each year, export markets are hugely important to our industry, so seeing an Under Secretary dedicated to trade is quite encouraging.”
Brothers explained that while tariffs and duties on U.S. goods remain a major obstacle and concern, non-tariff barriers have grown substantially over the past several decades and require the expertise of agencies such as APHIS to deal with foreign sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions.
Perdue also announced his intention to create an Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, to include the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Realigning these domestically-oriented departments logically puts farm services, crop insurance, and conservation programs under one roof and recognizes that conservation programs, like the very successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program of which rice is a major benefactor, are the way of the future for farming and farm policy.
Since the number of Under Secretaries the Department can have is limited by Congress, Perdue eliminated the position of Under Secretary for Rural Development and will have the agencies and functions dealing with this area report directly to him.
“This reorganization has been a long time coming and is quite welcome,” said Brian King, Chairman of USA Rice. “It shows that this is an agency well-aligned with our priorities and I expect our already great working relationship will only improve as we look to help our industry with strong and growing foreign markets and domestic policies and programs that ensure our farmers can continue to feed their families and families around the world in a safe and sustainable manner.”