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Perdue: U.S. Pressing China on Trade

by Caitlin Yoder

Published: Friday, April 12, 2019

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Purdue University last Tuesday as the College of Agriculture celebrated its Ag Week.

Perdue grew up on a dairy and row crop farm. His father also grew produce, and Perdue said the sweet corn operation he ran growing up helped him pay for college. He talked about how his background helped him appreciate the industry and the people working in it.

"I didn't appreciate it as much growing up," Perdue said. "But I call it the blessings of meaningful work, and that's really what agriculture does. It made me goal oriented."

Trade was brought up during the meeting. Perdue said there is a lot of anxiety among farmers and those in the industry. The ag industry has endured five years of lower prices and Perdue added that few industries could survive such a large drop in revenue. There is excess food being produced within the U.S., with fewer and fewer people producing it. Perdue stressed that trade is so important to get that product out and distributed all over the world.

According to Perdue, trade with China is still up in the air. He said they will be back in D.C. this week, which he believes indicates they are very serious about making a deal. Although China is a large contributor to trade, Perdue said the U.S. needs to establish trade with many other countries as well.

"We need to sell more and more product worldwide, and we're trying to do that," Perdue said.

Perdue believes that a deal with Japan will be successful and hopes they can come to a resolution within the year. As for Mexico, Perdue said a border closure would be devastating to agriculture. He remains optimistic that the issue will be resolved without closing the border.

Profitability is a challenge for farms as a result of the trade disputes. Many farmers are not sure they want their children to come back to the farm because of economic stress, Perdue noted. Several years ago, profits were high and young people were leaving jobs in the city to come back to the farm.

Perdue remains hopeful that the trade issues will be resolved. He said farms need to have more young people coming back to the farm for the industry to continue to grow and innovate.

GMOs have been another hot topic in agriculture. Perdue talked about how lucky the U.S. is to have access to nutritious, affordable food options. There is variety to choose from, and according to Perdue, consumers tend to take that for granted. GMOs are a tool the industry utilizes to help feed a growing population, and produce healthy products for a reasonable price.

"When man doesn't have enough to eat, he has one problem. When he has enough to eat, he has many problems," Perdue said, adding that he hopes that the U.S. doesn't have to go hungry again in order to accept GMO techniques. "How can we eliminate world hunger without using the tools we've developed to do just that?"

World hunger creates a number of major conflicts around the world. Perdue supports agricultural methods that can ease the hunger, GMOs being one of them. Climate change and environmental impact have been another issue raised by consumers. Perdue said, the U.S. is seeing an era where people are fearing their food when there is no reason for them to fear it.

Farmers are stewards of the land and care about environmental impact, however Perdue believes there is always room for improvement. Rather than brushing off the consumers worries, farmers should continue to strive for better practices and be transparent.

According to Perdue, farmers can increase organic capacity to have carbon negative output. He said many people do not think of ag as being helpful to the environment and it's important for farmers to show that they are involved in improving the land.

"Agriculture has a role in being part of that solution," Perdue said.

As a veterinarian, Perdue has found that today there is a deficit of large animal vets, as many students choose to practice on small animals. Perdue said he is working on ways to incentivize large veterinary training. Although he admits that it's a tough job that carries potential safety issues, there is a need for more people willing to practice on large animals.

"I hope we can have some impact on encouraging young people to go into large animal veterinary medicine," he said.

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