U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says it may be time for farmers in Iowa, and those from all over the United States, to brag just a little bit.
American agriculture, Perdue said recently at the Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines, has a great story to tell on productivity, on the environment and on being a positive force for creating jobs and reducing America’s trade deficit. But, he said, most of the American public remains unaware of farmers’ success.
"I challenge you to speak out proudly of what you do and how you do it," Perdue said. "We just can’t stand in a huddle and talk to each other anymore, we need to get beyond our fencerows. We need to go beyond that. I want you to be an advocate for agriculture."
A big part of that story must highlight the environmental gains by farmers, Perdue said. American agricultural productivity of food, fuel and fiber is the envy of the world, he said, but Americans need to hear more about how farmers are producing more with less environmental impact.
"You are better stewards of the land than ever before, and that story needs to be told," said Perdue, a farmer, veterinarian and former governor of Georgia who stopped in Des Moines during an RV tour in several Midwest states. "It’s something consumers need to hear."
Farmers are becoming better at reacting to consumers’ needs and supply a variety of food that would have been unimaginable a generation ago, Perdue noted. Still, he said, most Americans don’t think much about agriculture because they are already fed so well.
But that, Perdue said, can create issues because food activists often try to mislead consumers into thinking that something is wrong with their food or with agriculture, he said.
"We want consumers to be well-fed and we need to be sensitive to consumers’ needs. But we don’t want to engage in hysteria," Perdue said. "We need to make sure that these lies about our food and agriculture don’t go unchallenged."
Perdue cited the attacks on Beef Products Inc. (BPI) over its lean finely textured beef. BPI successfully sued ABC News, saying it and reporter Jim Avila had defamed the company by using the "pink slime" tag, and making errors and omissions in a series of reports that year. Disney, the parent company of ABC, recently paid $177 million to BPI in a settlement.
A good reputation
American-grown food, Perdue said, is held in very high regard around the world. A good example of that is the excitement in China over the availability of U.S. beef, which was recently allowed into that country after a 14-year ban, he said.
"Chinese customers are not the issue, it was the trade ban," Perdue said. "They love our product and they love the USDA stamp, which shows them that it’s a wholesome product."
The new Agriculture Secretary also highlighted the cooperation by Trump departments and agencies to work together to help farmers on issues including the environment, trade, labor and regulatory overreach.
"You’ve been caught in the middle and have gotten mixed signals before, and that has been frustrating," he said.
The USDA, Perdue said, is working closely with the Environmental Production Agency and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind the current Waters of the United States or WOTUS rule.
The Trump administration is working to streamline all regulations to reduce the burden on agriculture and the rest of the economy, Perdue said.
"You in agriculture are a great example of productivity and of people who are willing to take risks to improve their businesses," he said. "We need to spread that to the rest of the American economy."
Farmers will also benefit from the Trump administration’s focus on improving the nation’s infrastructure, Perdue said. That will mean more investments in locks and dams, roads and other transportation systems, he said.
Finally, Perdue pledged that he would continue traveling around America to hear from farmers.
"We want to be out and about and to hear from you. We know that the solutions we need are not going to be found in Washington."