Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has created an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs position in USDA in recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.
"The establishment of a trade undersecretary is long overdue," said Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. "
Perdue is also reorganizing USDA, announcing a newly named Farm Production and Conservation mission area to have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field and elevating the Rural Development agencies to report directly to him. He says this is in recognition of the need to promote rural prosperity.
Perdue issued a report to announce the changes, which address Congressional direction in the 2014 Farm Bill to create the new undersecretary for trade and also are a down payment on President Trump’s request of his cabinet to deliver plans to improve the accountability and customer service provided by departments. This is the first significant reorganization since 1994.
“Food is a noble thing to trade. This nation has a great story to tell and we've got producers here that produce more than we can consume,” said Perdue. “And that’s good, because I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. Our people in American agriculture have shown they can grow it, and we’re here to sell it in markets all around the world.”
Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs
Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which deals with overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which handles domestic issues, were housed under one mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency (RMA). In Perdue's USDA, the FAS will be situated under the new undersecretary for trade.
“Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world. y working side by side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world,” Perdue said.
Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation
Additionally, a new undersecretary will be selected for a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which is to focus on domestic agricultural issues. Locating FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under this domestically-oriented undersecretary will provide a one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers.
“The men and women of American agriculture are hardy people, many of whom were born into the calling of feeding America and the world,” Perdue said. “Their efforts are appreciated, and this adjustment to the USDA structure will help us help them in even better ways than before.”
Under the reorganization plan, the undersecretary for natural resources and environment will retain supervision of the U.S. Forest Service. A reduction in USDA workforce is not part of the reorganization plan.
Elevating Rural Development
The USDA reorganization will elevate the Rural Development agencies to report directly to the secretary of agriculture.
“The economic health of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy. It is my commitment to always argue for the needs of rural America, which is why we are elevating Rural Development within USDA,” said Secretary Perdue. “No doubt, the opportunity we have here at the USDA in rural development is unmatched.”
The Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program are crucial to maintaining and expanding international markets for U.S. wheat producers and the U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers believe this new position has the potential to increase support for the significant return agricultural export market development brings to the entire U.S. economy.
“The U.S. exports well over half of the soybeans we produce, and agriculture is one of only a handful of business sectors in the country with a positive trade balance--$17 billion last year," said Ron Moore, American Soybean Association president. "To have USDA recognize the importance of farm trade by creating this position is very encouraging, and we appreciate the administration’s foresight in doing so. We know that President Trump has big ideas on trade, and it will be imperative to have high-level officials within the administration who understand the intricacies of global agriculture markets."
“Concerning a reorganization this comprehensive, ASA will need time to evaluate the impacts of the shift in mission areas, and any potential reallocation of resources to determine their effects on soybean farmers," Moore said. "We will review the new structure with a careful eye, looking to make sure that the new USDA increases efficiency, while keeping its commitment to expanding markets both at home and abroad for farmers; investing in rural infrastructure and development; meeting conservation goals; and helping U.S. farmers maintain their role as providers of food for the world’s hungry.”
“We believe the restructuring of USDA makes sense for cattlemen and women, providing a one-stop shop for producers who utilize the many services of the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Additionally, having Rural Development directly reporting to the Secretary shows the emphasis he is placing on helping rural America," said Craig Uden, National Cattlemen's Beef Association president, in a media statement. “Furthermore, establishing this new Undersecretary for Trade position was one of our top priorities for 2017, so we are extremely pleased to see Secretary Perdue filling in the gaps left by the previous administration."
"While the administration has attempted to spin the demotion of Rural Development as an 'elevation' – arguing that because the office would report directly to the secretary, rural development needs will receive greater attention – it is in fact a trading away of rural, domestic priorities in favor of boosting international trade," the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition wrote in a blog post. "By demoting Rural Development to simply an “office” under the secretary, it will lose its Cabinet-level status and the decision-making power that comes with being categorized as a USDA mission area."
Source: USDA, U.S. Wheat Associates, ASA, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition