U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue wrapped up a Midwest road trip at the Indiana State Fair Tuesday.
Perdue met in private with state lawmakers about their goals for the 2018 Farm Bill reauthorization.
That’s the $800 billion package of laws governing the nation’s agricultural and nutritional assistance programs.
Perdue says Indiana agriculture leaders told him they want a strong safety net in the next version of the Farm Bill – one he says encourages them to farm for the market, not for subsidies.
“Don’t devise a program that makes people make uneconomic decisions of doing something that’s against their farming practices, in order to get government payments,” Perdue says. “That’s not what producers want. They want a good crop at a fair price.”
He says that’s why he wants Ted McKinney, Indiana’s current agriculture department director, to get Senate confirmation as the USDA’s first-ever trade secretary. In that post, McKinney would travel and find new markets for American farmers.
The Trump administration has alarmed some farmers by talking about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Act and other deals that have expanded agricultural trade.
Perdue reassured Hoosier farmers he’d protect their stake in the export economy.
“President Trump understands that as agriculture goes, so goes the country,” Perdue says. “It’s vital to the economy, and agricultural trade is vital to agriculture.”
He says he’s encouraged the White House to “do no harm” to agriculture.
Perdue spoke a day after The Guardian published emails showing the USDA’s conservation arm had encouraged staff to replace references to “climate change” and related topics with words like “weather extremes.”
Asked if that was the USDA’s official policy, he didn’t answer directly or use the words “climate change” himself.
Instead, he says his agency wants to make policies that “utilize the best sound science – not from an ideological perspective, but from the basic scientific calculation of objective study and what that tells us.”