U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue addressed members of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture virtually Aug. 31 during their annual meeting.

Meeting organizers hoped their theme of “Energizing Agriculture for the Future,” would help guide discussions and policy to help COVID-19 recovery and additional agricultural and food issues.

NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four United States territories.

Trade progress

Perdue gave an update on the trade issues facing the country, and said a lot has been overshadowed by the pandemic. There has been some success with trade negotiations between the U.S. and Japan, Mexico, Canada and China.

“I think we have had a good year,” he said. “I think the China phase one has been the biggest issue along with USMCA. It went into effect in July 1. We were really happy to have that certainty around those relationships.”

Agreements with Japan and Korea are works in progress, as are negotiations with the European Union and the United Kingdom.

“Brexit is a new opportunity for a fresh start,” Perdue said. “We got a little, small deal with EU the other day that was minimal, but we open the door to further things.”

The phase one agreement with China got off to a fairly slow start, and really, it was only just signed in early February 2020. But the last six weeks, Perdue has seen China step up.

“They're saying all the right things about their desire to fulfill the commitment,” he said. “I'm hopeful they will.”

In the past few weeks there have been record corn shipments and even some soybean shipments.

“I believe they have the capacity. China imports a lot of things,” Perdue said. “We were a little concerned early in the spring over the amount of imports they were getting from Brazil, but that's the counter cyclical nature of our production.”

Brazil’s harvesting and shipping time brings commodities to market in early summer. Whereas the U.S. storage capacity is much bigger than Brazil’s, America could have the advantage.

“We think we will own that market probably through next January,” he said. “Again until the next Brazilian crop comes in, and we believe China needs it. We think they're rebuilding their swine herd.”

The good news is there are record exports of beef and poultry; and China has worked to over come the non-tariff technical glitches that have been going on with the agreement.

“It's not perfect, but, right now, we're on a good run,” Perdue said. “And if we can continue, we feel really good about the phase one agreement.”

The aftermath of the derecho in Iowa and the destruction left behind from Hurricane Laura have been observed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Perdue believes there will be some funding coming, but it has to go through Congress first. This could push the export market in the future he believes.

“I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see some of that,” Perdue said.

Crop insurance is a safety net for most of the crops destroyed by weather, including rice and cotton, but sometimes farmers need more help.

“Whenever you had kind of total damage like that safety nets are never enough,” Perdue said.

Food aid

Food assistance is another area that recently received some more flexibilities and additional funding because of the pandemic, Perdue said. Many school-aged children will receive free meals and the farmer-to-family food boxes received additional funding.

“Well, it's been unprecedented actually in the amount of food that's gotten out the door in that way,” he said. “With this farmer to family, the president has indicated just added another billion dollars that last month, which makes it a $4 billion project.”

That’s if Congress wants to continue it. Food banks all over the country have been distributing the food boxes, and for Perdue it has been a real thrill to see the program work and get the food where it needs to be. The same goes for the free and reduced school meals.

“It's a big endeavor, our agricultural market service helps to procure this food, get into the right places and I think it's been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I guess it just demonstrates the compassion and the generosity of Americans, and we take care of a lot of people in the world.”

Taking care of “our own” is something Americans have done for generations. Especially during the pandemic, people who have never found themselves in a place where they need food and have no other options.

“When I talk about the noble business of growing and producing food—that's the end result of that is this win-win-win program of farmers to food (boxes),” Perdue said. “While we're rescuing and preserving food from being destroyed and employing those that deliver the food in the middle. The real thrill is watching these people who may not know where their next groceries are coming from, so it's been a great effort.”

Also at NASDA

Prior to their annual meeting, NASDA president-elect and Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles chaired the 14-person strategic plan working group comprised of NASDA members. Quarles was later elected president.

“American agriculture is the backbone of our rural communities, and COVID-19 has only underscored this. NASDA’s new strategic plan will guide us as state agricultural officials as we engage many other partners in this critical journey,” Quarles said in a news release. “Together we’ll grow American agriculture.”

NASDA’s new mission statement is: Grow and enhance American agriculture through policy, partnerships and public engagement. NASDA’s new vision statement is: Agriculture leads the way toward a healthy and resilient world.

“NASDA’s strategic plan will not live on a shelf,” NASDA president and North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “Over the next five years we will be tackling tough expectations on government affairs, membership engagement, partnerships, and public outreach. We are ready to be ambitious, and set aggressive goals for what success looks like for NASDA and American agriculture.”

Established in 1916, NASDA grows and enhances agriculture by forging partnerships and creating consensus to achieve sound policy outcomes between state departments of agriculture, the federal government and stakeholders.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or kscott@hpj.com.

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