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Perdue: Trump administration would defend CCC

-The Hagstrom Report
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks to the National Farmers Union this morning at the group’s annual convention in Savannah, Ga.
Photo by Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The Trump administration would defend the Commodity Credit Corporation if there are attempts to abolish it over the administration’s use of it to provide trade aid to farmers, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said here today at a news conference following a speech to the National Farmers Union convention.

Retiring National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said Sunday evening in a speech to the convention that he fears conservative and leftist critics of farm bills will work together in the next farm bill debate to end the Commodity Credit Corporation because the Trump administration has used it in an unprecedented way to provide aid to farmers following a decline in exports.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has expressed the same fear.

Asked by The Hagstrom Report about Johnson’s fears, Perdue said, “I hope that is not the case,” adding that the administration used CCC funds for valid reasons and can defend its use.

“We are hopeful that would not lead to that,” Perdue said. “We will be willing to defend that.”

The Trump administration has provided $28 billion in trade aid over two years, and Trump tweeted last week that the administration would provide another round of aid if necessary this year.

But Perdue said farmers should not expect more trade aid this year, and said he expects China to live up to its commitment to buy more U.S. farm products. He acknowledged, however, that the coronavirus crisis could interfere with China’s purchases.

If exports increase but farm prices don’t rise, the Trump administration will not provide more trade aid in the form of Market Facilitation Program payments because the MFP was not set up for the purpose of shoring up prices, Perdue said.

But Perdue also said Trump “is committed to make sure farmers get through this period of time. If that trade doesn’t materialize, I am going to get another phone call and we are going to be ready.”

But Perdue emphasized “I want trade, not aid,” a line that earned him a round of applause.

He also noted that farm income increased in 2019 but acknowledged it “doesn’t feel good” because the increase came in the form of government payments, not increased sales.

Perdue also repeated points he made last week at the Commodity Classic. He said that the American public should realize that the productivity of American farmers means that the average family’s spending on food is a smaller percentage of income than it is in other developed countries.

A USDA analysis showed that Americans spend 5% of their income on food while the French spend 13%, he said. That difference multiplied by the number of people who live in the United States amounts to an additional $830 billion per year in additional purchasing power, Perdue said.

Asked by a journalist about reports that the Economic Research Service is severely understaffed since the Trump administration moved most of its job slots to Kansas City, Perdue said “We are aggressively pursuing staff” and that the office space there is “wonderful.”

Perdue said he has met several new economists, and that one told him he is a recent Ph.D. earner with three children, and could not have afforded a move to Washington.

But Perdue added “With the current economy it is tough to recruit people to the federal government.”

Perdue also said he expects an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency soon on the small refinery waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Perdue said it would not be wise for the Trump administration to appeal a recent court decision that EPA had not followed the law and awarded too many waivers. The court decision was “very strong,” but EPA and the White House want to take another look before releasing a policy. The new policy should be nationwide, Perdue added.

Perdue also said in his speech he had come to the convention to honor Johnson upon his retirement, even though he and the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union have not always agreed on policy.

Perdue said Johnson is “polite,” but that “he can sure write a mean letter sometimes.”


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