When U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue planned his third “Back to Our Roots” RV tour, chances are an accelerating trade war with China wasn’t on the agenda.
Yet it was top-of-mind for farmers, who made up much of the crowd of about 250 who attended a Town Hall luncheon, co-sponsored by Ohio Farm Bureau, in Lima April 4.
Escalating trade rhetoric has thrown farmers, particularly pork and soybean producers, into the crosshairs as China threatens to retaliate against U.S. threats of steel tariffs with tariffs of up to 25 percent on certain agriculture products.
Perdue told audience members in Lima that he was personally assured by President Trump that he wasn’t going to “let our farmers be a casualty of these trade disputes.
“There’s a legitimate anxiety … but these are announcements,” Perdue said. “Our goal, frankly, is to get China to the table to discuss some of the unfair trading practices.”
Trade wasn’t the only topic of conversation at the Lima event. Perdue spoke about the importance of relieving the burden of numerous regulations on farmers, who he noted are small business owners. He also answered questions about environmental issues, such as the phosphorus load in waterways in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
“This is a long-term problem that requires a long-term solution and ag gets blamed more often than it should,” he said. He talked about work farmers are already doing to decrease nutrient runoff, including use of cover crops, nutrient management plans and precision agriculture.
Perdue also answered questions about the 2018 Farm Bill and the risk programs within it — including Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs. He said he expects those programs to remain, or potentially be rolled into one program.
“It will be a more evolutionary than revolutionary farm bill,” he said. Perdue said he is hopeful it will be passed this year, but cautioned that is it an election year and the focus of Congress may be distracted.
Administrator Linda McMahon, the head of the Small Business Administration, accompanied Perdue on his Ohio RV tour stops. The two signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the USDA and the SBA in Lima to promote stronger businesses and agricultural economies in rural America.