USDA Announces Major Re-Organization of Rural, Trade, and Conservation Programs

Source: By Jessie Stolark, EESI • Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017

On Thursday May 4, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA would undergo a major reorganization.  The agency will create an Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Affairs to “ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world,” according to Perdue. The creation of the position was first proposed in the 2014 Farm Bill and has been championed by the Farm Bureau and commodity groups.

Rural Development is being shifted to an office that now reports directly to the Secretary, this is significant because Undersecretaries are Congressional appointees.  Perdue claims this is “elevating Rural Development within USDA.”  Additionally, several offices are being shifted to the newly created Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, which will house the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Risk Management Agency (RMA) which administers crop insurance, and Farm Service Agency (FSA). According to USDA, the move is customer-oriented, aimed at creating a “one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers, the men and women farming, ranching, and foresting across America.”

With scant details, it is difficult to ascertain the impact to individual programs of the reorganization, but many are worried. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition slammed the administration for the move, stating, “The Rural Development Mission Area is huge with many decisions to make on a daily basis, and to assume that the limited number of overworked staff in the Secretary’s office will be better positioned to make and act on these decisions is questionable at best.”

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy questioned the effect it would have on the current farm crisis, with Director Juliette Majot commenting, “This re-organization expands an export-focused approach that has increased the profits and market power of global agribusiness, while steadily reducing the number of farmers and ranchers, who are the economic backbone of most rural communities.”

Democratic lawmakers, including Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MN), also expressed concern over the proposal to eliminate the Undersecretary for Rural Development. Senator Brown stated, “Ohio counts on USDA Rural Development for support for everything from combating opioids, to building hospitals, to securing loans for local businesses to grow and create jobs. … downgrading USDA Rural Development sends a message that rural Ohio is not a priority for this Administration.”

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