USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue meets with a constituent in Chenoa, Illinois, on Monday. Credit: Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told farmers that they need to open a line of communication with the public, as consumers push for more standards, transparency and traceability.

“No longer can we just sit on our farms though and do what we do well and just produce,” Perdue said at a stop in Chenoa, Illinois, on Monday as part of a five-state RV tour.

Perdue told farmers they have a communications challenge ahead of them as customers push for more information.

“The customer is the boss and the customer is always right, and we have to be prepared for that. We can’t sit back and resist and say, ‘That’s not my business, don’t come inside my fence.’ That’s not gonna be allowed in the future, and we got a great story to tell frankly.”

Perdue also touched on many of the other issues facing farmers today, including:

On the Farm Bill

“The principle of the farm bill that I would advise to be is a balanced approach where farmers are given the freedom to farm but not farming for programs. Give a safety net for what they do, but let them farm for the market, let them make their decisions based on where they see the market directions.”

“The good news was I think the ‘14 farm bill was a great progress from the ‘08 farm bill.”

“Cotton and dairy didn’t fare as well. It’s not a real issue around here as much, but in Wisconsin dairy was a big deal. Further down, in the mid-Atlantic and the Southeast, Texas, cotton was a big deal. So we need to look at those two specifically. (We also need to look at) specialty crops, maybe, from an insurance perspective.”

“Congress, I want them to understand that crop insurance is a safety net. It’s not an investment, it’s protection. You don’t need to get $1.10 out of every $1 you spend for crop insurance. It’s that safety net that they participate in that is very palatable for the public.”

On Trade Agreements

“Obviously you know there was some disappointment generally over withdrawing engagement in the TPP. I think the president is very determined that as large of customers as the U.S. is in other areas coming in, with many other places having trade deficits with other nations, he believes we ought to be a favored customer status, particularly in our trade relationships for agriculture and he’s looking forward to us negotiating bilateral trade agreements. I’ll be in Japan and Korea the next few weeks talking about them the next few weeks.”

“I think the latest beef issue with the tariffs (imposed by Japan) on beef was a cry out for us to develop a relationship and have a bilateral trade deal with the US. We do it better than anywhere else in the world, the logistics are better and the whole ecosystem of not only production as well as the product delivered to the final customer, whether it be processing or commodities is better than anywhere in the world. The president wants us to take advantage of that.”

On China

“China is a complex market. We’ve had good results after the 100-day plan that President Trump and President Xi agreed to at Mar-A-Lago. We’ve gotten beef back into China for the first time in over 13 years. We just signed a rice protocol the last couple of weeks. We’ve gotten four biotraits approved there, we’ve got four more to go. I think China wants a relationship. It makes it somewhat difficult with some of the unfair trade practices they’re using. We in agriculture fear that sometimes agricultural products are used as retaliatory measures. My message among the White House, our U.S. Trade Representative, the Secretary of Commerce is do no harm and don’t use agriculture as a sacrificial lamb.”


“I think the president maybe had the opinion initially that all Americans didn’t like NAFTA. We demonstrated to him that NAFTA had been beneficial really to the American farmer, but also to Mexico and Canada as well.

“From a trade perspective, it was a relatively good deal, that doesn’t mean it was a totally good deal. We have some issues with Canada that we need to address. Canada has a dairy supply management system. Our goal is not to tell them how to manage their internal supply but the fact is if they’re going to have a management supply, they need to manage the supply. They made it so lucrative for dairy industry in Canada that they’re dumping milk solids on the world and depressing markets for our dairy industry  and prohibiting and inhibiting our dairy exports.

“We want to address those kinds of things, potatoes into Mexico, other types of things. We want to make sure if we have a free trade agreement, we want it to be free trade.

“I’m absolutely confident that if we have a free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico our producers can compete with them as well as the rest of the world easily. I think another opportunity as far as the NAFTA perspective is to use that maybe as a shield going forward internationally maybe the Asian nations could use our NAFTA agreement, trilaterally against other countries in a TPP-like move.”

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