Secretary Sonny Perdue Testifies on 2018 Farm Bill

By Sam Gaston and Leslie Haymon

“The state of the rural economy is fragile,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue while testifying to the House Committee on Agriculture on February 6, 2018.  The Agricultural Act of 2014, which reauthorized agricultural and farm programs expires this year. This hearing is part of the effort to draft the next reauthorization, colloquially knowns as the farm bill.

Falling commodity prices distress farmers nationwide. For example, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, the California milk market saw an 885% increase in exports, but since 2014, U.S. exports have fallen due to these lower commodity prices and uncertainty over the agreement’s future. Secretary Perdue stated that he expects NAFTA to be renegotiated by the end of the year – improving exports once again. Similarly, Louisiana farmers are seeing cotton costs rise $100 more than their revenue. The rising prices of wheat and beef in Kansas are seeing farmers losing out in areas where Japanese beef has taken over the market.

Concerns were also raised about the agricultural workforce. Rep. Jimmy Panetta noted that in California, there is a serious need to improve the H-2A visa program which allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to America to fulfill agricultural jobs on a temporary basis.

Programs expanding access to broadband internet in rural communities are housed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The department is working with the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, and Department of Commerce to expand broadband access. Secretary Perdue explained that the Trump Administration is working to develop a nationwide strategy that opens more competition in the market. The administration is concerned that other nations are “catching up” technologically. The administration seeks to expand telecommunications research and advance ways to bring high-speed internet access to rural America while improving our productivity and focusing on resolving our most difficult issues.

While not a farm bill specific, the secretary also reiterated that USDA’s commitment to coordinating with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the opioid crisis, helping improve American energy independence, working to get veterinarians to areas of need, and ensuring dedicated money in the upcoming infrastructure bill for locks and dams. CSG will continue to monitor these issues and the progress of the 2018 Farm Bill.