Finally, one of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments can be celebrated.
Politics aside, even partisan observers would have to admit that a number of his other Cabinet nominees bring little or no previous experience with public-sector governance, a glaring hole in their résumés that no multi-billion dollar private-sector organization would tolerate.
In some cases, the nominees really aren’t all that familiar with the industries they will be tasked with regulating.
That won’t be the case with his choice to become the next Secretary of Agriculture, however, assuming the former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s nomination is confirmed by the Senate.
Perdue, the final appointee to Trump’s Cabinet, is a veterinarian whose two terms in office as chief executive of one in the country’s top poultry-producing states equips him with an in-depth knowledge of the animal protein sector. And you can’t serve as governor of Georgia without becoming well-acquainted with the cultivation and marketing of peanuts, cotton and timber.
Although environmental groups and anti-trade activists are upset with his connections to “Big Agribusiness,” there is genuine value in bringing in someone with firsthand knowledge of agricultural production to head up one of nation’s largest federal agencies. Ideology aside, a knowledge of the operations and challenges facing any industry is critical to enforcing regulations in a way that protects the public yet doesn’t hamstring business.
(Plenty of people at both ends of the political spectrum would argue that such a balancing act is all but impossible).
The reaction to Perdue’s nomination from the meat and poultry industries, and from a fellow officeholder was swift and supportive.
“Gov. Perdue has a strong record as two-term chief executive of Georgia and is acquainted with a wide array of agriculture commodities,” Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said in a statement. “As a veterinarian, agribusiness owner and a governor who established an agricultural advisory committee in Georgia, he understands and appreciates the importance of American agriculture both here and abroad.”
· Zippy Duvall, a Georgia native who formerly served as president of the Georgia Farm Bureau and was elected president of the American Farm Bureau Federation in 2016, predictably endorsed Perdue’s ability to lead the agency. “He understands the challenges facing rural America, because that’s where he was born and raised,” Duvall told reporters. “He is a businessman who recognizes the impact immigration reform, trade agreements and regulations have on a farmer’s bottom line and [the] ability to stay in business from one season to the next.”
· Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Sonny’s cousin, also expressed his pride in the selection. “Sonny’s executive experience as a two-term governor of Georgia, the first Republican in 135 years, as well as his veterinary background and agribusiness career, are a few of the many reasons he is the best person for the job,” the senator said in a statement.
· Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, said that, “We welcome news that a person like Gov. Sonny Perdue, with his extensive knowledge and experience in the agricultural sector, has been nominated to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture. We look forward to working with Gov. Perdue to ensure the safety of the nation’s meat and poultry supply and to address the challenges facing our industry.”
[Just one quick aside: Can we get some clarification on which titles are lifelong? “Mr. President” will always be how ex-presidents are addressed, but I want to know what else makes the short list of once-scored-never-ignored titles. Governor? Apparently. Senator? I guess so, unless you ascend to another office, like Secretary. General? Definitely. But where’s the cutoff? Does Vice President make the list?
What about Congressman or Congressperson? Colonel? Attorney General? Are those lifetime titles? Seriously, I think we need an official list of titles that are conferred for eternity, versus those that only have a lifespan as long as the person is serving in the actual job].
Of course, Perdue’s biggest challenge won’t be learning the nuances of commodities marketing, or the details of food-safety regulations. His No. 1, mission-critical challenge will be dealing with the trade negotiations that either enhance or restrict opportunities for exports of U.S. farm commodities.
As Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and technology at Friends of the Earth, cautioned in a news release, “Given Perdue’s position with a global agribusiness trading company and his actions as governor, we are concerned that Perdue will use his position at the USDA to prioritize the profits of big agribusiness and trade over the interests of American farmers, workers and consumers.”
In truth, the interests of agribusiness can — and should — align, not compete, with those of farmers, workers and consumers.
Farmers, obviously, benefit from ag exports. As a nation, we grow too many food crops and raise too many livestock to be limited only to the domestic market. Negotiated judiciously, trade deals can benefit agribusiness, but earn profits for farmers and growers, as well.
As for workers, they are also consumers, and food safety, security and affordability are the underappreciated benefits of the success of U.S. agribusiness, a development Perdue will be charged with sustaining.
But he’s in a great position to do just that, because given the controversies swirling around so many other Trump appointees, Perdue will likely be able to go about his new job with as little scrutiny as that office has had in decades.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist and do not necessarily reflect those of Farm Journal Media.