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Ag Secretary Visits Michigan Orchard


by Bev Berens

Published: Friday, February 9, 2018

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue barnstormed through Michigan last week as he promoted USDA's new website and listened to farmers' concerns on vital issues plaguing American Agriculture.

Fourth generation farm, Robinette's Orchard in Kent County, opened their farm's retail agritourism destination to more than 150 early rising guests, providing the crowd with the bakery's signature hot donuts and cider, coffee and fresh apples. Michigan Farm Bureau hosted the stop.

Secretary Perdue listened, praised and encouraged the state's farmers for their productivity and ingenuity.

"Our vision from the USDA for American agriculture is not that different from the President's State of the Union address this week," Perdue said. "'Safe, Strong and Proud' describes American agriculture and the president wants prosperity for rural America and agriculture as he does for all of America."

In addition to listening to constituents, Perdue unveiled a new, one-stop website for farmers where USDA's FSA and NRCS programs are available at one location.

"Did you ever go right to what you want to find when you look for something on USDA's website?" said Perdue. "We want to be faster, friendlier, easier to connect with. Your time is valuable, and we want you to not have to drive to and office somewhere every time you need to connect with services."

Stating that the website is still a work in progress, the USDA will continue to grow the website's robustness and connectivity to the point that growers can find programs, apply, give suggestions on regulatory issues, and is smart phone friendly. The expanded website partners with the goals of expanding rural broadband access, enhancing technology, education and bilateral communication in rural America.

Easy to find and remember, the new website is https://www.farmers.gov/.

Trade, labor and the ag economy were hot topics during the question and answer period; topics that are interdependent and vital to rural prosperity. Concerns over dumping specialty crops into the U.S., trade relationship between Canada and Europe that are more favorable than US/Europe relationships, tariffs, the agricultural trade deficit between the U.S. and Mexico, and NAFTA surfaced again and again.

Perdue said that the USDA is working hard, just as farmers do, to sell more of our products around the world through the hiring of former Indiana Director of Agriculture, Tim McKinney, who will work to develop foreign trade and related policy.

Labor, H2A and immigration reform issues wove throughout the questions.

"A safe, legal work force is necessary for agriculture and the president understands that," Perdue said. "If we can get that into new immigration legislation remains to be seen." Fixes to programs like H2A, labor programs through USDA, or a separate clause in immigration reform policy would all be welcomed relief. "We can either import our labor or import our food."

As for the 2018 Farm Bill, Perdue said to expect evolutionary—not revolutionary—changes that will continue to provide a safety net and food security to the nation and the farmers who produce it.

Reiterating that rural prosperity is a presidential priority, Perdue said that the USDA, cabinet members and the president have created an actionable item list of tasks to help bring prosperity back to rural America through farms and business.

"When the president signs and executive order, it's an order, not a suggestion."

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