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Perdue Stops at Clemens Pork Plant in Coldwater

by Melissa Hart

Published: Friday, April 13, 2018

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue rolled into Coldwater on his third "Back to our Roots" tour last Tuesday. The second destination of his three stops in Michigan was Clemens Food Group where a group of pork producers, researchers, business owners, community leaders and agricultural leaders and students listened closely as he discussed pork tariffs, the dairy crisis and labor issues.

The pork industry and trade with China took center stage with the recent drop in pork prices. Perdue said trade with China is serious and it's a reason for concern as he stood in the eight-month-old pork processing plant, Clemens Food Group, where a hog is completely processed every eight minutes.

"We had hoped that China would not have moved to phase two as quickly as they did, but ob-viously they put pork on that (recently) and that bothers us to some degree. But the administration is using these times to negotiate over serious issues."

Perdue continued, "From an agricultural perspective, I've never met a farmer that I didn't consider a good patriot with good American values, and when you know that China, by all evidence, has acted unfairly in many areas regarding technology transfer and intellectual property theft, literally, and cyber theft, farmers are going to want to do their share."

While agriculture is usually the target with trade talks, Perdue stressed that it should not be the "only bullets in the gun." He commented, "I understand that, and the president understands that. The president does want free trade, but he wants fair trade most of all."

He continued, "Our American producers are so productive, they're always on the tip of the spear over any kind of retaliatory reaction. I've had a personal conversation with the president and he is convinced not to let agriculture bear the brunt of any kind of retaliatory measures."

As the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) negotiations continue, Perdue said, "We hope that we can announce good results from NAFTA in the coming weeks, and we think that will help lower the anxiety of produc-ers in the country and certainly guys here as you are on the tip of the spear with pork."

With dairy producers in the Midwest losing their milk contracts in recent weeks and the bearish dairy outlook, Perdue addressed the specific challenges of the dairy industry. He noted that the revamped Margin Protection Program (MPP) signup would begin on April 9 and thanks to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the MPP would be more beneficial to dairy producers.

"It had gotten kind of a bad name because it wasn't very effective previously, but I hope people will look at it again and see the protections that it offers certainly on the first 5 million pounds of milk." He continued, "It's going to help your small or medium size herds."

Perdue is hopeful a final NAFTA piece will address the Canadian dairy supply management difficulties.

"That's been a huge part of the problem of decreased world prices with their Class 7 circumvention in their supply management program. They've manage their supply domestically where they charge their consumers about twice what ours do and then produce for the world market and depress prices globally. So those are the challenges we've talked with Ambassador Lighthizer about addressing the dairy issues on the NAFTA program. Hopefully we can get some relief that way."

Perdue also addressed the ag labor issue, pointing to the Securing America's Future Act (H.R. 4760) introduced by Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that was intended to reform the immigration system and provide a legislative solution for the current beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Perdue commented, "The Goodlatte Bill was a really good bill before it got watered down in committee, but we've been supporting it." He continued, "We expected that to be integrated into a larger immigration bill which is somewhat stalled, but we haven't stopped there. We are in serious negotiations with the Department of Labor, State and Homeland Security over a modernized, revised H2A program. Not the total solu-tion, obviously, for a year-round type of operation like hogs, but nonetheless we are hoping to get relief in that program for a legal work force."

Surrounded by legislators from Michigan, Pennsylvania and area Michigan Farm Bureau representatives, Perdue shared his enthusiasm about the state-of-the-art processing facility at Clemens Food Group and the importance of the quality and uniformity of the product being supplied to the facility.

"You can't put a good product going out the back door if you don't have a good one coming in, and it was evident that there are good producers here and good processing makes for a good product," Perdue said.

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