Ag News

Perdue looks to fill top spots

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Reports indicate that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue may name some of his first undersecretaries and his deputy secretary this week, tapping many Midwest state agricultural officials to help balance the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Politico reported that American Soybean Assn. president and chief executive officer Steve Censky is in line to be Perdue’s deputy secretary. A formal announcement from the White House is expected Wednesday.

Censky has led the soybean group since 1996 and also previously served at USDA in both the Reagan and George H. Bush administrations.

Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey looks to be the new undersecretary for the newly created farm production and conservation mission area that will focus on domestic agriculture.

Sam Clovis, who currently serves as a USDA liaison to the White House, is set to be named undersecretary for research, economics and education. He chaired President Donald Trump’s agricultural advisory team and has had a prominent role in the first months of Trump’s presidency.

Indiana agriculture director Ted McKinney is expected to be named as the new undersecretary for trade.

Rural development ‘demotion’

Although Perdue is set to name his two new undersecretary positions, his decision to eliminate the Rural Development mission area and the Office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development is coming under fire.

A coalition of rural organizations, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), wrote a letter outlining their concerns to members of Congress.

“Rural America is much more than production agriculture,” NFU president Roger Johnson said. “Family farmers and ranchers need vibrant rural communities because they provide desirable amenities and jobs. Underfunding, understaffing or demoting the Rural Development mission area within USDA would cause real harm to programs that benefit farming and rural communities.”

Rural Development is currently a core USDA mission area. It is overseen by an undersecretary and is, therefore, part of the USDA sub-cabinet. The reassignment would remove Rural Development from the sub-cabinet and rescind both the decision-making power that comes with being a core USDA mission area and the ability for Congress to have direct oversight.

The coalition’s letter noted that Rural Development has a $216 billion portfolio with more than 40 different programs that “provide critical resources and technical assistance for some of the most underserved communities in the country – a responsibility demanding the highest caliber of leadership and accountability.”

The letter added, “The Administration highlights the shift as an ‘elevation of rural development’ as the new assistant would report directly to the secretary of agriculture, yet all undersecretaries already report directly to the secretary and, indeed, serve as part of his sub-cabinet, so the assertion this would better position (Rural Development) is deeply misleading.”

The letter also noted that the USDA reorganization is the result of a congressional directive included in the 2014 farm bill that instructed USDA to create a new undersecretary of trade, but it pointed out that USDA was under no legal obligation to eliminate any other mission area or undersecretary to accomplish the directive.

“Rural America should not have to choose between production agriculture and critical economic development investments. We need core services and programs aimed directly at addressing the unique and diverse needs of rural communities,” the letter concluded.

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