Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Monday it is too early to start making assessments on the impact of Hurricane Irma, but Perdue said estimates on agricultural losses from Harvey could be as high as $1 billion.
Perdue noted Harvey affected a lot of cotton and cattle production in the areas that were impacted. "We know the big numbers could be up to $1 billion in agricultural production impacted by Harvey alone," Perdue said. "Now we've got the citrus industry hit hard in Florida, right in the middle of Irma, as well as the vegetable crops and things down there. We will continue to be doing assessments."
He spoke Monday at USDA to roughly 300 members of the National Farmers Union. Perdue praised the entrepreneurship of the NFU, which has five restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area owned largely by members of the North Dakota Farmers Union. Perdue said he and his wife had been to at least two of the area restaurants. Perdue added he had recently at one of the Founding Farmers restaurants with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. "I was lobbying him on H-2A there, by the way," Perdue added.
H-2A is the agricultural guest-worker program that brought in as many as 160,000 temporary workers for farms this past year. Perdue did not indicate what exactly he was lobbying about with H-2A.
Perdue told NFU he was focused on a deregulatory environment. He is overseeing the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity created by President Trump that is expected to outline regulatory changes in a report as early as mid-October. Perdue said the federal government is coming out of an era of extreme regulation. Rather than having the mantra, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help,' Perdue said, "I'm from the government, how can I get out of your way?"
Looking at a major regulation coming down the line, Perdue pointed to the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, which is overseen mainly from the Food and Drug Administration rather than USDA. Perdue said he recently had meetings on FSMA, which he said is going to have a major impact on the feed industry.
"That is going to be a wide-reaching regulation that's not under the purview of the USDA," Perdue said. "I kind of wish it was. We would have a little different mentality about it." He said farmers should pay close attention to the rules and described FSMA as a potential regulatory kudzu, an invasive vine that is spreading across the southern U.S.
Despite his anti-regulatory bent, Perdue said farmers are all stewards. "Our job as agriculture, our job as citizens, is to leave this world better than we found it."
Perdue also told reporters after his speech that USDA would be weighing in on data evaluations in the farm bill. When it comes to the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program, farmers and others have challenged NASS survey data and asked to use data from crop-insurance reporting to determine ARC guarantees. Perdue said USDA leaders will be having more conversations within the agencies over whether to recommend a change in the farm bill. He noted, "There's always some paranoia in the farm community over NASS numbers and these reports that come out, particularly when farmers are hurting and the numbers show more bushels on-hand than they thought and there is some concern that these numbers are not exactly correct."
Perdue noted, "We want credibility. Farmers want credibility. I've been asking farmers there about what data they would believe is the most appropriate there. We believe RMA data has a lot of credibility because those are real numbers that people have to rely on for their insurance efforts."
Still, Perdue added, "But we also want our farmers to participate in the surveys. And I know many farmers throw those things away or don't take much time to fill those out. And NASS depends on the accuracy of those surveys together. So I want to encourage all of our producers to be conscientious in their efforts so we can get a good balance of what numbers should be there for the farm programs. NASS is important. Obviously, RMA is important. But I hope we will get good participation in those numbers."
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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