Perdue joins Iowa leaders for policy talks

Source: By Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today • Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2017

URBANDALE, Iowa — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue joked during his visit here last week that he needed to start selling “Free Bill Northey” T-shirts as a way of pushing the U.S. Senate to approve the Iowa ag secretary’s nomination for an undersecretary position at the USDA.

“I’m very disappointed, obviously,” Perdue said of the delay in Northey’s nomination to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

Northey has been approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee and faces no major opposition from Democrats, but U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was blocking the nomination due, in part, to Iowa’s push for changes to rules regarding the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Cruz, a long-time oil industry supporter, was criticized by ethanol supporters in Iowa during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perdue said he respects the rules of the Senate, but he hopes that lawmakers can get Northey’s nomination approved soon so the Iowan can do his job at USDA.

The comments were made during a Nov. 10 stop to talk to veterans, farmers and farm organization leaders. Perdue talked to people at a local Hy-Vee supermarket and then joined in a group discussion at Rain and Hail Insurance. He was joined at both stops by U.S. Rep. David Young, R-Iowa. Northey and Gov. Kim Reynolds joined him at the insurance discussion.

Young talked a bit about the tax bill discussion now happening in Washington, D.C., saying that the last time comprehensive tax reform was passed was in 1986, when he “had a mullet and a Van Halen T-shirt.”

Young also said the RFS always faces opposition from a certain segment of Congress and that lawmakers from Iowa and other Midwestern states face a continual battle over the RFS and ethanol-related issues.

Perdue also mentioned during his stop that, judging by the good yields coming out of fields in Iowa and surrounding states, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) yield projections appear to be much closer to the truth than many farmers had expected. NASS drew some criticism earlier this summer for what many farmers viewed as optimistic yield projections.

Both Perdue and Young said trade will continue to be very important to farmers and agriculture as a whole. President Donald Trump has drawn some criticism in agricultural circles for his push against multi-lateral trade agreements. Several farmers told Perdue that any decision to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be disastrous for farmers.

Perdue said he expected negotiations over NAFTA to take a while and that there would be some bumps in the road, but added, “I’m hopeful that we will get a revised agreement.”

He asked farmers to “hang on and don’t get overly anxious if you see not-so-good news come out. … I think we will get there in the end.”

The secretary also talked during his stop about reducing the regulatory burden on farmers and on the need to pass a farm bill.

And he said lawmakers are starting to work on an infrastructure bill. He said he hoped the public would see some type of infrastructure bill introduced soon after the first of the year.