New ag secretary Sonny Perdue unveils plan to reorganize USDA

By Erin Voegele | May 12, 2017

On May 11, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue released a plan to reorganize the USDA that creates an undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs and eliminates the undersecretary for rural development. USDA Rural Development agencies will now report directly to the agriculture secretary. In addition, a newly named farm production and conservation mission area will have a customer focus and meet USDA constituents in the field. According to information released by the USDA, the creation of the new undersecretary for trade addresses congressional direction included in the 2014 Farm Bill.

According to the USDA, the changes to Rural Development are designed to ensure that rural America always has a seat at the table.

“The economic health of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy,” Perdue said. “It is my commitment to always argue for the needs of rural America, which is why we are elevating Rural Development within USDA. No doubt, the opportunity we have here at the USDA in rural development is unmatched.”

The Advanced Biofuel Payment Program; Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program; Repowering Assistance Program; and Rural Energy for America Program are among the energy-related programs housed under USDA Rural Development.

Regarding the development of a new undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs, the USDA noted that U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production. “Our plan to establish an undersecretary for trade fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture’s unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world,” Perdue said. “By working side by side with our U.S. Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, the USDA undersecretary for trade will ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world.”

In a video he released to discuss the reorganization, Perdue stressed the undersecretary for trade and agricultural affairs will focus on promoting food, fiber and fuel around the world. “We want to find more customers for American products and help feed a hungry world,” he said.

While the Foreign Agricultural Service, which deals with overseas markets, the Farm Service Agency, which handles domestic issues, and the Risk Management Agency are currently housed under one mission area at the USDA, the reorganization will relocate the FAS under the new undersecretary for trade.

The new undersecretary for farm production and conservation will focus on domestic agricultural issues. The Farm Services Agency, RMA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be housed under the mission area. “The men and women of American agriculture are hardy people, many of whom were born into the calling of feeding America and the world,” Perdue said.  “Their efforts are appreciated, and this adjustment to the USDA structure will help us help them in even better ways than before.”

The U.S. Forest Service will continue to be organized under the supervision of the undersecretary for natural resources and environment.

According to the USDA, a reduction in the department’s workforce is not part of the reorganization plan. In his video, Perdue also stressed that the changes are structural in nature. Individual offices and missions will not be altered, he said, just the lines of reporting.  

A report detailing the reorganization was sent to congress May 11. A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the USDA website

USDA employees and members of the public can submit comments on the reorganization on the White House website

The National Corn Growers Association has spoken out in support of Perdue’s decision to create an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. “The National Corn Growers Association has long advocated for a dedicated position at USDA focused on increasing U.S. agricultural exports, and we pushed for this provision in the 2014 farm bill,” said Wesley Spurlock, president of the NCGA. “We are pleased to see that post finally become a reality today. Secretary Perdue’s announcement signals to farm country that the Trump administration is listening to America’s farmers and ranchers. In this farm economy, trade is more important than ever to farmers’ incomes. Overseas markets represent 73 percent of the world’s purchasing power, 87 percent of economic growth, and 95 percent of the world’s customers. Now is the time for U.S. agriculture to fully capitalize on the long-term, increased global demand for our products around the world. Today’s announcement is a big step toward that goal. NCGA looks forward to working with Secretary Perdue, the new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, and others throughout the administration to ensure more consumers around the world are consuming American corn and corn products.”

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