Perdue tries to calm farmers on trade

Ag secretary pushes Mexico-Canada deal, reasserts support for ethanol

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue rides farm machinery at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur on Wednesday. (Twitter/Farm Progress Show)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue rides farm machinery at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur on Wednesday. (Twitter/Farm Progress Show)

By Ted Cox

The U.S. agriculture secretary attended the Farm Progress Show in Decatur on Wednesday and attempted to calm Illinois farmers suffering under President Trump’s trade war with China.

The Associated Press reported that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue began the day attending an Ag Policy Forum with host Congressman Rodney Davis and his fellow Illinois Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, Darin LaHood, and John Shimkus. He then attended the Farm Progress Show in Decatur and was later slated to tour the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton on the Mississippi River.

According to the AP, “Perdue has sought to assuage farmers' fears of financial problems after China halted purchases of U.S. farm products in an escalating trade war. Also, farmers are angry that the Republican administration ordered increased blending of corn-based ethanol in fuel but then exempted small oil refineries from complying.”

Just this week, the Illinois Farm Bureau joined an alliance of 150 business and agriculture groups in issuing a statement saying, “Enough is enough,” on Trump’s tariffs and urging him to end his trade war with China, which has severely curtailed Illinois soybean exports.

Perdue tried to soften his landing by running a column Tuesday in the Decatur Herald & Review, but in that piece he distracted from the trade war with China by lobbying instead for congressional approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade deal the Trump administration negotiated with neighboring countries to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

While Illinois Republican congressmen have urged approval of USMCA, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on a visit to Springfield earlier this month that the pact is “not ready” for passage.

According to Perdue, “Illinois exports more than $27 billion worth of goods to Mexico and Canada, and USMCA will only increase Illinois’s economic power.” He pointed out the state’s top export is farm machinery, accounting for $4.4 billion of that total, and he said the new deal would benefit John Deere as well as other state manufacturing.

“On my first day as secretary, President Trump promised he would work to get better deals for American farmers, and USMCA is proof of that,” Perdue stated. “President Trump’s policies have been beneficial to American agriculture from tax reform, to deregulatory actions, like pulling down the Waters of the U.S. rule, to initiating year-round E-15.”

But he made no mention of China in the newspaper column, and he had to try to placate farmers on ethanol in Decatur on Wednesday. Farmers were irritated that, while Trump paid lip service to ethanol, allowing year-round sales of fuel with 15 percent ethanol despite summer smog concerns, the Trump administration actually provided an out for small gas refineries not to work with ethanol. According to the AP report, Perdue called it “disappointing” that Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency had granted those waivers, but he did not say whether those waivers would be withdrawn. He said only that Trump thought the EPA waivers were "way overdone."

Farmers have cheered ethanol as a way to use corn for fuel, but they have also claimed that the refinery waivers have cut ethanol production by 2.6 billion gallons under the Trump administration.

Trump himself made a point of calling in to Perdue while he was doing an interview session at the Farm Progress Show. Both touted a new trade deal with Japan, and Trump defended the ongoing trade impasse with China. According to a report on the Feedstuffs farm news site, “He recognized he could make a quick deal and be a hero” to farmers, but instead Trump added, “Or I could do it the right way, and do it the way we’re doing it now.”

“If the goal is to wait him out, I think they’ve got a long time to wait,” Perdue said.