In an open letter to President Donald Trump last week, Trent Loos, Nebraska rancher and member of Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, urged our nation’s newly minted leader to finally decide who would be at the helm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In his letter, Loos reminded Trump that the Secretary of Ag has an important role to fill in guiding the next generation of food producers, of overseeing the development of an accurate food guide pyramid for Americans to follow, of addressing issues in the Farm Bill, SNAP and other subsidies, and of leading what Abraham Lincoln called “The People’s Department.”
READ: An open letter to President Donald Trump
Having worked for the USDA in Washington, D.C. for a summer while in college, I know firsthand the solid, dependable and passionate folks who have dedicated their careers to civil service. Yet, the expansiveness of USDA troubles me, and Loos was quick to point out the size and scale of the department when compared to the number of food producers we have in the U.S.
Loos writes, “The USDA currently employs 105,778 people, making it the largest agency in the Federal Government. That number is tremendously troubling when a report from the Farm Foundation Organization states that only 76,000 farm families produce 80% of the food in this country.”
Surely, there are some things that need to change to more efficiently run the USDA and provide services to the people who produce the food and fiber our nation needs.
Needless to say, I was pleased to see how active Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee was on vetting potential candidates for this top job. Agriculture asked and waited. Who would be our secretary of ag? Finally, late last week, just a few days before Trump’s official inauguration, agriculture had its answer with the appointment of Sonny Perdue, former Governor of Georgia.
So who is Perdue? And what will he do for agriculture? Here are five tidbits about the new guy at the helm to shed some light on who he is and what his priorities might be once he takes on the job at USDA.
1. Perdue grew up on a farm.
According to Lynne Hayes for Growing America, “There have been 30 Secretaries of Agriculture since 1889 when the USDA was founded, and though some were raised on a farm, only two actually lived and worked in agriculture as adults. If confirmed, Sonny Perdue will be number three. Perdue, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Ag Secretary, grew up on a farm in Perry, a small town in Central Georgia. He has been involved in several agribusinesses in his career, from grain to eggs, fertilizer and exports.”
2. He practiced veterinary medicine.
In 1971, Perdue earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and worked as a veterinarian for a brief time before he started three businesses.
3. He’s a businessman and grain specialist.
Perdue is an owner and investor in three businesses — AGrowStar, Perdue Partners and Houston Fertilizer and Grain Co. Inc.
4. He’s been involved in Georgia politics much of his life.
Perdue, age 70, is an original member Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Team, a two-term Georgia governor, a veteran of the Air Force, and an 11-year state senate member in Georgia.
According to Philip Brasher for Agri-Pulse, “Perdue was one of the few candidates with experience running an organization as large as USDA, which has more than 100,000 workers in the national capital area and around the country. Georgia has about 68,000 state employees. The Pew Charitable Trusts gave Georgia’s state government a grade of B-plus in 2008.”
READ: Trump picks Perdue for Ag Secretary, ending historically long search
5. He won’t make everyone happy
Although many are optimistic about Perdue’s real-life experience in agriculture and grasp of important issues such as risk management, foreign trade, commodity pricing and business, his critics believe his former experiences in fertilizer make him a threat to environmental stewardship.
During a drought, he was quoted in the media that folks should, “Pray for rain,” leading many to pounce on his lack of actual solutions for the dry Georgia state. Others are disappointed Perdue doesn’t meet some expectations for diversity, as many groups urged Trump to nominate a woman or Hispanic, not another old white male, to fill the position.
As for me, I’m excited about Perdue’s resume and real-life experiences in agribusiness. I will give him a fair chance to lead USDA in this new administration before I start criticizing. How about you?