March 2017
Potato Growers Back New Secretary of Agriculture By John Keeling, National Potato Council executive vice president and CEO

The search for a new Secretary of Agriculture went down to the wire, as the incoming Trump administration made former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue their last cabinet nomination. His formal announcement was made the day before Donald Trump was to be inaugurated 45th president of the United States.

Given his background in running a state that has a large portion of its thriving agriculture industry devoted to specialty crops, Perdue’s nomination was hailed by the National Potato Council and other fruit and vegetable associations. In addition to being the first Republican governor of Georgia in 130 years, he is also a trained veterinarian and owns a row crop farm. Those diverse experiences provide him with a deep understanding of the unique challenges that will face American agriculture during the coming four years.

Balancing trade interests is probably the most immediate issue that the new Secretary of Agriculture will need to face. The incoming administration has expressed interest in improving various agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Improvements have to be achieved without compromising the significant gains that have already been negotiated for the potato industry, which are delivering economic benefits.

Also, the Farm Bill reauthorization process is beginning. It is intended to result in new farm policy legislation before the current bill expires in September 2018. That process will govern various essential programs affecting the potato industry including research, nutrition, export promotion, risk management and other priorities. During that complex process, it can be extremely helpful if USDA engages with the House and Senate in a constructive dialogue about the way those programs are operating and what improvements can be made to enhance efficiency.

Additionally, farmers across the country are extremely interested in a variety of regulatory improvements that can be made to enhance their operations. Administrative actions that restore balance in environmental regulations, access to necessary labor and related activities can all create a springboard for growth in the agriculture sector. USDA has a role to play in either constructing themselves or advising other agencies on how to improve the regulatory environment to help American farmers.

In short, the next four years are going to be extremely busy on a host of federal and international issues. Having a strong leader like Perdue at USDA should enhance our ability to positively capitalize on those opportunities.

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