MADISON, Wis. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is interested in the prosperity and livelihood of U.S. farmers.
“We want to hear from you because you can tell the story better than anyone can,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “That’s why it’s so important you come to D.C. and talk to your policy makers because you bring an authenticity that I cannot do.”
Perdue spoke during a Stakeholder Townhall event on the opening day of the World Dairy Expo.
“Over the past year, our farmers have been hit with a triple whammy — low prices, difficult weather and trade issues,” said Brad Pfaff, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection secretary-designee.
“I think it’s extremely important to share our story about what we’re hoping to do and how we see our role in this country for providing healthy, safe and nutritious food.”
Perdue encouraged farmers talk about their farming practices.
“We let the other side through social media take the microphone away from us,” he said. “Farmers are fairly private, independent kind of guys that want to sit behind the farm gate and do their job to produce the best, wholesome, safe and nutritious food in the world at a lower cost than anywhere in the world.”
Farmers should engage consumers in an active way, Perdue said.
“We have nothing to be ashamed about, so we have to tell that story transparently,” he said. “You have a great story to tell, and you’ve got to tell that story loudly and proudly.”
Pfaff said connecting consumers to farmers is the No. 1 issue that he is focused on.
“We have a wonderful story to tell, and we also need to recognize consumers seek choices,” he said. “I want to work with you to make sure products that come from our farm fields and dairy barns meet the expectations our consumers look for.”
Perdue noted that farmers are the original environmentalists.
“You make a living off the land, so most people are not out there trying to destroy the water or air quality,” he said. “We have work to do on soil health so we can be carbon sinks rather than carbon emitters.”
And with the use of precision agriculture, Perdue said, broadband accessibility is important for rural areas of the nation.
“With the monitoring and sensoring technology we have, we should be able to monitor what’s leaving our farm in an objective way,” he said.
If lab-grown meat comes to market, Perdue said, the responsibility of the USDA is the safety of the protein.
“We will assume our role at the point of time of harvest, and it will have the same safety inspection as we do with slaughter today,” he said.
“The role of the USDA is to identify where protein comes from and consumers will make their choice,” he said. “People who are choosing non-animal protein are probably not eating your product now.”
USDA does not choose winners and losers, Perdue stressed.
“If you think we should deny technology because it may disrupt the marketplace, I think we have a fundamental disagreement on the role of the USDA,” he said.
Perdue said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is good for America.
“I think NAFTA was good, but the USMCA is a more modern agreement and it eliminates the unfair Class 7 milk our neighbors to the north were engaging in,” he said.
“You have to communicate your desires to the policymakers,” he said. “I think the USMCA will be good for the dairy industry, poultry, eggs and wine.”
Perdue is optimistic about the completion of the USMCA.
“I’m trusting Congress will do the work of the people,” he said. “A lot more people are concerned about trade and the economy than other things.”
China, however, is a different deal, Perdue said.
“I’m happy we’re continuing to talk, and Chinese officials will be back in the country very soon, which is a good sign,” he said.
“We’re insisting China not just try to buy their way out of this temporarily and continue their bad habits they had over a number of years,” he said. “The flag has been thrown on that, and they need to reform many of their tariff and non-tariff barriers to make it fairer.”
Based on the productivity of the American farmer, Perdue said, he understands why other countries want to establish barriers.
“But they can’t expect to come into our country freely and fairly without opening their markets,” he said.