By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- The White House is using Sonny Perdue's swearing in on Tuesday as agriculture secretary as a backdrop to help show President Donald Trump is focused on the interests of farmers and agriculture.
To mark Perdue's confirmation vote and first official day on the job, the president will sign an executive order on agriculture and host a roundtable Tuesday afternoon with Perdue and 14 other farmers from around the country.
Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, was confirmed in an 87-11 vote on Monday evening. Perdue is expected to be sworn in Tuesday, then give a speech to employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters.
Ray Starling, a special assistant to the president on agriculture, highlighted the executive order and the roundtable discussion. Starling said the meeting will mark the earliest that a president has held such a meeting with farmers, going back to President Ronald Reagan's term.
"We cannot find any reference to a presidential meeting with a group (of farmers) this size, this early in a presidential administration, back to Reagan's time," Starling said.
President Reagan met with a large group of farmers in the early days of his administration because of the President Carter-era embargo on wheat exports to the Soviet Union, Starling said.
The White House noted fewer than 1% of the American population farms, but agriculture is a dominant industry in most states.
The executive order will sunset the White House Rural Council started under President Barack Obama in 2011. Trump's White House will then restart a similar inter-agency rural task force to look at legislative, regulatory, or policy issues that hinder economic growth in agriculture. Further, the new task force will work to promote agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security, and quality of life in rural America. The task force will be expected to produce a report within 180 days.
Starling said issues such as rural development and rural infrastructure are part of the new task force's mission, but much of that work would still center on production agriculture. "We do believe that in these rural communities, the best thing we can do to make them grow quickly and economically is to focus on agriculture, because it is the No. 1 driver in these rural communities," Starling said. "We certainly understand that is not the only silver bullet."
A key to the executive order is that it will encourage agencies to roll back regulations on agriculture. The executive order will have some specific areas highlighted for agencies to consider changing, though Starling declined to detail those specifics. He did point to issues regarding biotechnology adoption, though Starling noted that biotech trade approvals are largely a trade issue as countries delay approving new traits after going through the U.S. regulatory process.
Starling also suggested changes in the Food and Drug Administration of the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Starling indicated some concerns among farm groups over the extent of FDA-required on-farm inspections.
The panel discussion that will go with the executive order is expected to include conversations on immigration reform that may be counter to some of the president's initiatives in that area. Ag groups largely want to see guest-worker programs expanded and streamlined, not tightened. The executive order will address issues about "access to a reliable workforce," Starling said.
Further, the farmers are expected to stress the importance of trade to the industry. Starling said agriculture generates a net trade surplus, and it is well understood that agriculture relies heavily on trade already. Starling indicated that will be stressed to the president by the farmers.
"These farmers will make sure they leave the impression on the president about how important agricultural trade is, and in particular how important that agricultural trade is just north and just south of our border here in the United States, namely Canada and Mexico," Starling said.
The 14 farmers included in the meeting with Trump and Perdue are:
- Lisa Johnson-Billy, farmer and former statehouse member, Lindsay, Okla.
- Luke Brubaker, Brubaker Farms, Mount Joy, Pa.,
- Hank Choate, Choate's Belly Acres, Cement City, Mich.,
- Tom Demaline, Willoway Nurseries, Avon, Ohio,
- Zippy Duval, President of American Farm Bureau Federation and farmer from Greensboro, Ga.,
- Valerie Early, National FFA Central Region Vice President and former 4-H member, Wykoff, Minn.
- Lynetta Usher Griner, Usher Land and Timber, Inc., Fanning Springs, Fla., with farms also in Kansas.
- A.G. Kawamura, Orange County Produce and former California state Agriculture secretary, Newport Beach, Calif.,
- James Lamb, Lamb Farms and Prestage Farms, Clinton, N.D.
- Bill Northey, Iowa secretary of Agriculture and farmer from Spirit Lake, Iowa.
- Jose Rojas, vice-president of farm operations for Hormel, Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Terry Swanson, Swanson Farms, Walsh, Colo.
- Maureen Torrey, Torrey Farms, Elba, N.Y.
- Steve Troxler, North Carolina commissioner of Agriculture and farmer, Browns Summit, N.C.
Chris Clayton can be reached at email@example.com
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