There is a lot of talk today abut the next Farm Bill. What will be in it? When will it get done? But I think the agriculture industry should remind the new Secretary of Agriculture when Donald Trump takes office that the last Farm Bill had an important provision that was never implemented.
The 2014 farm bill directed the Department of Agriculture to establish an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Affairs. Why is this so important? One out of every three acres of our farm production is exported today. In 1978, our exports were valued at $29 billion. It’s a new day and our trade structure at USDA has remained unchanged for nearly 40 years.
There are trade opportunities and challenges today that we did not imagine in 1978. We need an experienced trader at the Under Secretary level to focus on agriculture trade. We are facing challenges every day to keep markets open and gain access to new markets. There are trade disputes with China all the time but, for agriculture, that market is essential.
In May 2013, a letter signed by 29 food and Ag groups was sent to the Congress asking that the Office of Under Secretary for Trade be part of the 2014 Farm Bill. All former Secretaries of Agriculture, including yours truly, supported the idea. The whole Ag industry was saying, “Get it done!” It passed. The 2014 farm bill directed USDA (1) to present a reorganization plan to establish the Office of Under Secretary for Trade, and (2) by August 2015, to fully implement it. However, it never got done. It is still sitting on the shelf.
With the number of hungry mouths to feed in this world expected to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050, let’s not procrastinate any longer. We need to reorganize the USDA Trade office and give the leader the stature of Under Secretary to get the job done.