Who May Fill New Roles in USDA Reorganization


It was a busy week for Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as he announced on Thursday the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.  Perdue made the announcement standing by barges filled with agricultural products along the banks of the Ohio River.  As part of a reorganization of USDA, Perdue also announced the standing up of a newly-named Farm Production and Conservation mission area to have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field.  Finally, Perdue announced that the department’s Rural Development agencies would be elevated to report directly to the secretary of agriculture in recognition of the need to help 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.

“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 Secretary 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.”

Perdue also announced a new Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which will locate the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and the National Resources Conservation Service under a domestically oriented undersecretary. He says this move provides a “one-stop shop” for farmers, ranchers and other USDA “primary customers.”

Potential Candidate for new Undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation:

One candidate already mentioned is Iowa three-term Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. Despite numerous reports that Northey will be named to that position, he posted a statement on Facebook Saturday morning.

“I appreciate the kind comments and support from so many friends here in Iowa and across the country as news has circulated recently about a possible role for me at USDA. The appointment process can take time to unfold and it is important not to be overly presumptive. I hope you will all understand that I cannot confirm anything or make any formal comment about the rumored appointment at USDA. I look forward to communicating about that more openly at the appropriate time. As I have said many times, I love my job as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and I am anxious to support the President, Sec. Perdue and USDA’s mission in whatever role I am in – either within USDA or outside.”

Agweb.com also reported that Dr. Sam Clovis, Senior White House Advisor to USDA is also under consideration for Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics. Dr. Clovis, who is a native Kansan, spoke on April 11 to the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka.  A tenured economics professor at Morningside, Iowa College, Clovis had been on unpaid leave from the private Sioux City school since August 2015, when he joined the Trump presidential campaign as national co-chairman and chief policy adviser.

Reaction to USDA Reorganization:

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts (Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman):

Agriculture Secretary Perdue on Thursday sent a letter to Chairman Roberts communicating the changes within USDA.

“Just a few short weeks into the new job, I’m pleased that Secretary Perdue continues to hit the ground running on behalf of rural America. The establishment of a trade undersecretary is long overdue.”

“As I continue to say, we need to get the right folks down at the Department to get to work on the issues that matter most to farmers. Trade is certainly at the top of that list.”

“I’m hopeful this realignment will benefit rural America, and I look forward to reviewing the report from Secretary Perdue.”

Kansas Senator Jerry Moran:

“I applaud Secretary Perdue’s recognition of the importance of trade and his efforts to elevate USDA’s work to expand agriculture exports. In Kansas, we see firsthand the impact trade policy has on the ability of our producers to sell the food and fiber we grow to people around the world. The USDA plays a key role in reducing trade barriers, increasing market access, and making certain American farmers and ranchers are competing on a level playing field in the global market. During this time of low commodity prices, it’s especially important for USDA to renew its focus on ag trade.” 

National Association of Wheat Growers:

NAWG President David Schemm:

“NAWG applauds the USDA for emphasizing the importance of trade by creating a specific mission area devoted to the Department’s trade programs.  This move highlights the significance that programs like the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program play in promoting wheat and other ag commodities all over the world.

“We also commend the Administration for recognizing the value of American agricultural products to international markets.

“Further, NAWG appreciates USDA’s efforts to streamline agencies that producers interact with locally by moving NRCS into the same mission area as the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Risk Management Agency (RMA).  We hope this effort will also lead to streamlining the paperwork of the programs administered by these agencies.

“Our producers rely on trade access throughout the world. It’s vital that whomever fills this new position ensures that American wheat growers are made a priority in trade negotiations.

“NAWG is ready to work with the Administration in its search for a qualified candidate to fill this position and encourages them to use farmers and their farm organizations as a sounding board as the process moves forward.”

National Association of Conservation Districts:

NACD President Brent Van Dyke:

“As one of USDA’s core partners, NACD’s primary goal is to ensure that American landowners are given the tools and technical assistance they need to conserve and enhance our nation’s natural resources. For this reason, we were glad to hear Secretary Perdue say that no reduction in the workforce will occur as a result of the reorganization.”

NACD CEO Jeremy Peters:

“NACD looks forward to providing input to USDA throughout the reorganization process to ensure continued strong service delivery. Because many of the nation’s 3,000 conservation districts are co-located with USDA field offices, local input is critical as the reorganization progresses to prevent any loss of service.”

National Corn Growers Association:

NCGA President Wesley Spurlock:

“The National Corn Growers Association has long advocated for a dedicated position at USDA focused on increasing U.S. agricultural exports, and we pushed for this provision in the 2014 farm bill. We are pleased to see that post finally become a reality today.

“Secretary Perdue’s announcement signals to farm country that the Trump Administration is listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. In this farm economy, trade is more important than ever to farmers’ incomes. Overseas markets represent 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 87 percent of economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s customers. Now is the time for U.S. agriculture to fully capitalize on growing global demand for our products. Today’s announcement is a big step toward that goal.

“NCGA looks forward to working with Secretary Perdue, the new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and others throughout the Administration to ensure more consumers around the world are consuming American corn and corn products.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:

NCBA President Craig Uden:

“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.

“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. This position will play a vital role in leading USDA’s efforts to capitalize on foreign demand for U.S. agriculture products and we look forward to working with the Undersecretary to break down trade barriers and expand our ability to meet the growing demand for U.S. beef in key markets like Asia.”

American Soybean Association:

ASA President Ron Moore:

“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. That success abroad leads to success here at home, returning billions to the economy and supporting more than a million jobs. 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. Secretary Perdue has shown himself to be an advocate for agricultural trade, and the new Under Secretary will be a similarly major part of those conversations.

“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. 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.”

Environmental Defense Fund:

“On the surface, combining conservation and farm productivity programs makes sense, since sustainability is almost always good for a producer’s bottom line. Reducing duplication and bureaucracy between these agencies could streamline efforts to implement conservation practices while protecting farmers’ incomes. However, a lot remains to be seen and will depend on who fills the Undersecretary position. We’re advocating for someone committed to the long-term success of production agriculture, strong environmental outcomes, and programs that improve farm resiliency.
Ultimately, as long as conservation priorities do not take a back seat to farm production goals, both the environment and farmers can benefit. Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) funding and outreach should remain a top priority under the new organization. CTA provides the experts, tools, and resources needed to support farmers, and it ensures the best investment of conservation dollars.”

Center for Rural Affairs:

Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson:

“The Center for Rural Affairs has fought on behalf of rural communities for nearly 45 years. We are heartened that Sec. Perdue is making strong efforts during his early days in office to express support for rural communities. However, we are concerned about the path he has chosen. Sec. Purdue has proposed eliminating the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development and moving oversight of Rural Development agencies to the Deputy Secretary, USDA’s second-in-command. If he makes this change, Sec. Perdue will be removing the position of the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result.”

“While USDA has a broad mission to promote and support our country’s food and agriculture, Rural Development is the only part of USDA that has the explicit directive to support rural communities.”

“USDA’s Rural Development Agencies – the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the Rural Utilities Service, and the Rural Housing Service – have complex, broad, and deeply important responsibilities in rural communities. These include providing loans for treating wastewater and for the construction of single and multi-family homes.”

“Other Rural Development programs, such as the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program and Value-Added Producer Grant Program, facilitate innovation and encourage success. We’ve seen that 21st Century jobs being created in rural communities are driven by entrepreneurship. For rural communities to thrive, we particularly need to support the job-creating mission of this agency.”

“Each of the other mission areas within USDA has similarly complex and important responsibilities, including natural resource conservation, nutrition assistance, and food safety. By removing the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development, rural communities will no longer have a dedicated advocate or an equal seat at the table at USDA.”

Sec. Perdue’s reorganization announcement follows a request by the Trump Administration to cut the USDA budget by more than 20 percent. That proposal includes eliminating the Rural Business-Cooperative Service and Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant Programs.”

“If Sec. Perdue truly wishes to support rural America, we ask that he not eliminate the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development nor support deep cuts to the budget of Rural Development. Instead, we ask him to appoint a strong advocate for rural communities as Undersecretary for Rural Development, and to support a budget that allows Rural Development to carry out its mission.”

“Rural America deserves a champion who is not distracted by the other demands of managing the diverse responsibilities of USDA. By retaining the Undersecretary position, USDA will be better positioned to work with rural people and achieve a vision for America that includes thriving rural communities and economic opportunity for all.”


Sources: USDA, agweb.com, Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Jerry Moran, NAWG, NCGA, ASA, NACD, NCBA, Center for Rural Affairs, EDF