President Donald Trump’s top agriculture official stopped in Central Illinois on Monday to talk with farmers about the next farm bill and other federal programs.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited an Evergreen FS facility in Chenoa as part of a five-state “Back To Our Roots” tour focused on the farm bill and other rural issues. Later this year lawmakers are expected to draft a new version of the farm bill—comprehensive legislation that’s renewed every few years and includes nutrition, commodity, and crop insurance programs.
Perdue said he hopes the next farm bill features a “balanced approach” that gives “farmers the freedom to farm” but with an eye on the market—not on specific government programs. The crop insurance program will be key to farm bill negotiations. Trump’s initial budget blueprint called for $28 billion in cuts to federal crop insurance over 10 years, although Congress doesn’t appear interested in such deep cuts to either crop insurance or the farm bill's SNAP program (food stamps).
“I want farmers to understand that crop insurance is a safety net. It’s not an investment. It’s a protection. You don’t need to get $1.10 for every dollar you spend on crop insurance. It’s that safety net that they participate in that’s very palatable for the public,” Perdue said Monday.
Perdue, formerly the governor of Georgia, made headlines last spring for reportedly helping to convince Trump not to withdraw unilaterally from the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Perdue reportedly showed Trump a map of the U.S. that visually depicted how withdrawing from NAFTA would hurt American farmers.
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico will begin renegotiations on NAFTA on Aug. 16 in Washington, D.C.
“I think the president maybe had the opinion previously that all Americans didn’t like NAFTA. We demonstrated to him that NAFTA had been beneficial to the American farmer. But also to Mexico and Canada as well. From a trade perspective, it was a relatively good deal,” Perdue said.
There is still room for improvement in NAFTA, he said. Canada’s dairy supply management system, for example, is unfairly hurting U.S. dairy exports, he said. The U.S. government could also use NAFTA as a “shield internationally” as other multilateral trade agreements are under consideration.
Perdue was scheduled to visit a livestock show in Georgetown, Ill., later Monday.
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