Southeastern agriculture appears to have hit the jackpot with the nomination and subsequent confirmation of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as the 31st Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Perdue is a lifelong farmer, veterinarian and agribusinessman who led Georgia through its most difficult economic era since the Great Depression and still managed to lift the state’s agriculture profile across the board. He is widely renowned as a masterful politician in the best sense of the word – not a professional BSer, but someone who can work across both sides of the aisle and get things accomplished in ways that benefit everybody.
That was readily apparent by nature of the fact that Perdue was maybe the only Trump cabinet nominee to avoid opposition stalls or would-be blockades. He wore a tie sporting tractors to his confirmation hearing and told the committee, “Agriculture is in my heart, and I look forward to fighting for the producers of America. I will absolutely be an advocate and a fighter, where necessary.”
By all accounts, Perdue appears to be that rarest of combinations in politics: The right man in the right place at the right time, with the right agenda and the right experience.
And while no one’s expecting any home-cooking, everyone shares a hope that with a Southeasterner in Washington, the region will get its due as the domestic dynamo that drives the produce industry outside of California.
But no pressure, Mr. Secretary, and best of luck.
Perdue himself Tweeted shortly after the confirmation – with a series of accompanying photos to prove the point – “I was a farmer first. When you’re in agriculture, you don’t often need a tie. Rolling up my sleeves and getting to work @USDA.”
As the new Secretary was doing that, SPW polled a wide variety of produce industry members about their hopes for Perdue and what he may be able to accomplish in DC.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, himself no stranger to DC after 10 years as a U.S. Congressman, Tweeted, “Thrilled to see Sonny Perdue, a family farmer, veterinarian, and business owner, confirmed as head of USDA. Great choice, @realDonaldTrump.”
Here’s a cross-section of comments we received in our polling:
Steve Troxler/North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture/Raleigh
I’m optimistic about the president’s choice of Sonny Perdue to be secretary of agriculture. The state agriculture commissioners and secretaries from the Southeast were united in our efforts to have him named because he has the experience and knowledge of agriculture in this region and we think he will do a great job.
John Crossley/U.S. Foods/Rosemont, IL
Sonny Perdue can have a huge impact on Southeastern agriculture by supporting state and local level legislation aimed at educating/preparing young professionals for careers in agriculture and produce.
Mike Prather/Flavor-Pic Tomato Co./Birmingham, AL
I think having someone who is more familiar with the “fresh” side of the produce industry is very beneficial. A lot of times it seems their focus seems to be on grain and cattle. Being exposed to the great crops that are grown in Georgia such as the peaches, watermelons, Southeast vegetables and Vidalia onions will be a huge benefit to industry.
Bob Morrissey/National Watermelon Association/Lakeland, FL
We are truly delighted that Gov. Perdue has become the Secretary of the USDA. Being the third farmer to ever hold that seat is an accomplishment that we believe will provide the background, knowledge and forward thinking that makes sense for farming in America. Additionally, Mr. Perdue has a history in past years with and in the watermelon business, so his knowledge and where-with-all about specialty crops is most welcome. We look forward to engaging with the Secretary about the need for a documented, viable workforce in agriculture, trade issues, and making agriculture in the USA great again.
Zippy Duvall/American Farm Bureau/Washington, DC
(By Tweet) “Perdue will provide the strong voice that agriculture needs in the new administration. He is an outstanding nominee.”
Sean McBride/DSM Strategic Communications/Washington, DC
As a family farmer and former Governor, no one knows the challenges and opportunities faced by American agriculture better than Governor Perdue. His leadership will have a positive impact on food safety, environmental, technology, trade and nutrition issues that will make it easier for growers to operate, meet consumer demands and achieve their marketplace goals. His leadership on the U.S. Farm Bill currently being constructed will be invaluable in striking the right balance between grower risk and government assurances. In addition, his vision will be important in shaping federal nutrition programs and ensuring the government’s nutrition advice for consumers is based on sound science and realistic public health outcomes.
Michael Ryshouwer/Bejo Seeds Inc./Monticello, FL
Just a thought. There are a lot of efforts to grow more types of produce that is historically shipped from the West — California — like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. in Georgia and other Southeastern states. Perhaps he will have some influence on helping Southeastern growers participate more in these crops, justified as more locally grown produce and saving on transport which is better for sustainability message/greenhouse gases/etc.
Bo Herndon/Herndon Farms/Lyons, GA
Sonny made a very good governor. He has been around ag his whole life and will be a great person to be the secretary of agriculture. He is up to speed already on all our problems like labor, water and so many others that farmers face today.
Bob Stafford/Vidalia Business Council/Vidalia, GA
He’s a heck of a player in ag. He was very good as a governor for ag because of his background, it’s really deep. He knows the ins and outs. Ag is at a crossroads in Georgia when it comes to labor and problems like that — – there is an answer, it’s a workable guest worker program and he knows the ins and outs of it and can guide it through. You’ve got to have a person who’s deeply rooted in agriculture in that office and Sonny Perdue is the man.