USDA announces restructure

Sec. Sonny Perdue follows Congressional direction in the 2014 farm bill

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USDA Reorganization
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced three major changes in the organizational structure of the USDA. (Submitted photo)

(Scroll down to view Sec. Sonny Perdue’s video announcement)

SALEM, Ohio — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced May 11 three major changes to the structure of the USDA.

First, the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the USDA, a recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture.

The new undersecretary position is a sign of Perdue’s efforts to promote the U.S. agricultural industry, even as President Donald Trump has sought to undo trade pacts that benefit it.

On his second day in office last month, Perdue helped persuade Trump not to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, arguing that doing so would hurt U.S. farmers. Trump has said he will work to renegotiate the pact instead.

As part of the USDA reorganization, Perdue also announced the creation of a newly named Farm Production and Conservation mission area to have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field.

Finally, Perdue announced that the department’s Rural Development agencies would be elevated to report directly to the secretary of agriculture, in recognition of the need to help promote rural prosperity. But, this change will eliminate the Rural Development’s Senate-confirmed undersecretary.

Farm bill

Perdue issued a report to announce the changes, which address Congressional direction in the 2014 farm bill to create the new undersecretary for trade. The changes are also a down payment on President Trump’s request of his cabinet to deliver plans to improve the accountability and customer service provided by departments.

“Food is a noble thing to trade. This nation has a great story to tell and we’ve got producers here that produce more than we can consume,” said Perdue. “Our people in American agriculture have shown they can grow it, and we’re here to sell it in markets all around the world.”

A reduction in USDA workforce is not part of the reorganization plan, the first of its kind since 1994.

Hesitation

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, raised concerns after hearing the plans. He supports the new trade position, he said, but it should not come at the expense of the Rural Development Program.

The program has awarded Ohio nearly $6 billion in loans and grants between 2009 and 2016, he said.

“I welcome the extra emphasis on trade and look forward to working with USDA to sell Ohio ag products around the world,” Brown said.

“But I do not support eliminating the Undersecretary for Rural Development. 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.”

The Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson also disagrees with the change in Rural Development.

If he makes this change, Perdue will be removing the position of the most significant rural advocate within USDA. Rural America stands to suffer as a result, she said.

Exports

The emphasis on trade comes at a time when U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production, and every dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity.

Additionally, every $1 billion in U.S. agricultural exports supports approximately 8,000 American jobs across the U.S. economy.

As the global marketplace becomes even more competitive, the United States must position itself to retain its standing as a world leader, Perdue said.

“Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world. By working side by side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world,” Perdue said.

Logical order

The second factor in the reorganization seeks to place agencies in more logical order. Under the existing structure, the Foreign Agricultural Service, which deals with overseas markets, and the Farm Service Agency, which handles domestic issues, were housed under one mission area, along with the Risk Management Agency.

The shuffle moves FAS under the new undersecretary for trade.

Additionally, a new undersecretary will be selected for a newly named Farm Production and Conservation mission area, which is to focus on domestic agricultural issues, and will provide oversight for FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Under the reorganization plan, the undersecretary for natural resources and environment will retain supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.

Rural development

Having the Rural Development agencies report directly to the secretary of agriculture will ensure that rural America always has a seat at the table, Perdue said.

USDA employees and members of the public may comment on the reorganization plan by visiting this page hosted by the White House.

(©2017 Farm and Dairy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. AP contributed to this report.)

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