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Perdue ‘Can’t Do It Alone,’ Say Farm Groups, Asking Trump for USDA Appointments

U.S. farmers and ranchers, one of the strongest voting blocs for President Trump, are “at a disadvantage” because Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is running the USDA by himself, said 17 powerhouse farm groups in a letter to the president. It was one of the first expressions of discontent with the administration from the politically conservative farm sector.

“We applaud you in picking such a strong secretary of agriculture in Sonny Perdue. … But he can’t do it alone,” said the farm groups. “The absence of high-ranking officials at USDA puts our farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage. It is impossible to pilot such a large and complex agency without a team of powerful and talented people at the helm. We urge you and your staff to move swiftly in filling out the rest of Secretary Perdue’s team.”

Perdue said it will be fall before any Trump administration appointees join him at USDA headquarters. Two weeks ago, he said six nominees, including deputy secretary, were undergoing background checks, a necessary and occasionally time-consuming step before a nomination can be announced and sent to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Besides the secretary, the USDA ordinarily is run by a deputy secretary and seven undersecretaries, each in charge of an operational arm, such as farm subsidies, meat safety, or public nutrition.

“From promoting agriculture production to keeping our food supply safe, the USDA’s role and responsibilities are vast and complex and require more than one Senate-confirmed official at the department,” said Chandler Goule, chief executive of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “Farmers have had to deal with a rapidly declining market, and months and years of sustained low prices means rural America is struggling.”

At the moment, Perdue is aided by a “beach head” team of Trump transition officials that arrived on January 20 and by a group of USDA civil servants who were selected as caretakers by the outgoing Obama administration until a new group of Trump-chosen executives arrived. Lobbyists say that with the absence of political appointees in command at the USDA, it is nearly impossible to get a hearing on policy issues.

Signing the letter were the two of the largest U.S. farm groups, the America Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, as well as the biggest-membership groups, representing the producers of wheat, corn, soybeans, rice, cotton, sugar, cattle, hogs, dairy, sorghum, barley, sunflowers, canola, dry beans, and dry peas.

To read the letter by the farm groups, click here.

FERN’s Ag Insider. Produced by FERN
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