Perdue talks trade, farm bill, more in Illinois sessions

Bost, Davis, IFB vice president join the ag secretary in taking farmers' questions.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, left, chats with GROWMARK Chairman John Reifsteck, center, and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, before a listening session on Reifsteck’s Champaign farm Wednesday. (Photo by Kay Shipman)

By Kay Shipman

Trade, second Market Facilitation Program payments and the farm bill’s future topped farmers’ questions to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue Wednesday on GROWMARK Chairman John Reifsteck’s Champaign farm. Perdue crossed the state with listening sessions in two hotly contested congressional races, flanked by Republican incumbents, Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

Farmers, including Illinois Farm Bureau Vice President Brian Duncan, sought Perdue’s view on the likelihood of a second payment for retaliatory trade compensation.

“I want to clarify, unless there is resolution to the tariff situation and sharp rise in the market, there will be a second payment?” Duncan asked.

“That’s our expectation,” Perdue answered.

“We’re going to take a look at things as they go; I don’t have a lot of hope, but we will let people know,” he told another questioner.

The predominantly farmer audience applauded Perdue’s statement: “I think more farmers want a trade deal than a second check.”

The secretary later repeated to reporters his assurance of a second payment, adding, “We want to look at the trade situation.”

After the session, several farmers said they felt more confident a second payment would be issued. One even quipped he will deposit that second check in his bank account. 

Asked about the trade wars’ impact on agriculture, Perdue blamed the Chinese government. The trade situation will change “when China determines to stop stealing our stuff ... stealing our intellectual property. This is China’s decision,” the secretary said adamantly. “We appreciate farmers’ understanding. Farmers get it.”

Video: Perdue and Davis respond to some of the questions on farmers’ minds during Wednesday’s session in Champaign.

IFB Director Tammy Halterman of Dwight asked about the potential for a new farm bill without the need to start again after a new Congress meets Jan. 3.

Davis quickly answered that securing a farm bill was his reason for serving on the House Agriculture Committee and the farm bill conference committee. He acknowledged contention over Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Recently Davis “threw out a SNAP compromise,” he said, but declined to give details. “I don’t think we’re that far apart,” he added.

To find common ground on differing provisions, Davis said he’s told others the House could improve its language on research and conservation provisions “like those in the Senate.”

Perdue told FarmWeek, “I’m confident we will get a farm bill done. People have to get over the election. We don’t think they’re that far apart. The farm bill is critical.”

Video: Perdue discusses the possibility of a second payment under the Market Facilitation Program. (Video courtesy of University of Illinois Extension)

Asked about the possibility of a 5 percent cut in USDA’s budget, the secretary said he has already advised his staff “to look at that. We know how to do more with less and can do more with less.”

On other issues:

- A new dicamba label from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA): While Perdue told farmers he couldn’t comment on a potential label, “we have to do a better job applying ... We farmers can do a better job on application education.” Andrew Wheeler, USEPA acting administrator, “wants to use good science,” the secretary added.

- Threat of African swine fever spreading to the United States: Perdue said he receives a daily update from Animal and Plant Health Inspection on its work. He noted a USDA-trained detector dog found a roasted pig head in baggage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this month.

“It’s on our minds and hearts every day,” Perdue said of the deadly infectious disease.

Got a question? Ask Sonny

Didn’t get a chance to ask U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue a question Wednesday? He wants to hear from you anyway.

Go to or call 877-508-8364 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time and share your thoughts or ask a question.

Perdue stressed all comments are read, heard and considered. “We are serious about this,” he said.

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