Engaging. Interested. Down to earth. Conversational.
That’s exactly how the Illinois farm and agribusiness community describes U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue following his visit to the Georgetown Fair and the local Farm Credit Illinois customer dinner on Monday, Aug. 7. The visit was part of his “Back to Our Roots” RV tour of the Midwest, stopping at fairs and events throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Earlier on Monday, Perdue held a farm bill listening session at Rochester and participated in a fertilizer roundtable at Evergreen FS in Chenoa.
“It’s great to come out to the fields and farms in Illinois,” Perdue told the eastern Illinois crowd. He joined the Farm Credit Illinois customer dinner, and then headed out to the Georgetown Fair to check out the steer show and address the crowd in the show ring. “Being a farm boy from Georgia, you find out that farmer folks are pretty much alike all the way — really the backbone of American prosperity.”
Perdue also took the opportunity to share the president’s trade message: “The good news is you have a president from New York City who gets that. He understands where the productivity comes from. He understands that American agriculture contributes to a trade surplus, not a trade deficit. He likes that and wants us to do more. And he is going to help us trade the products you grow so well all across the region and country.”
According to Aaron Johnson, Farm Credit Illinois executive vice president, Perdue’s visit was geared to talk and connect with local farmers, and to learn about Midwest crops and diversity.
Perdue also spoke about agriculture’s stake in Washington. “I’m hearing first of all, do no harm. When you get in trade disputes, agriculture is the first thing on the table. I think most of our producers are happy, and others want us to do no harm. We have that message firmly at the White House: Don’t use agriculture as the sacrificial lamb when you’re negotiating.”
“I think everyone likes to see the secretary out having these discussions with the producers who are growing the food,” Johnson said. “There’s a good vibe in the air when that’s going on.”
Show ring conversations
Dennis Smith, Ridge Farm farmer and Georgetown Fair Board member, took a break from his duties as beef superintendent to join Perdue and his wife, Mary, for dinner with Farm Credit. Smith said he and his wife, Annette, found Perdue to be congenial and interested in learning about local agriculture. He was able to question Perdue about the accuracy of the USDA crop report (“We’ll know in December,” Perdue said), and they spoke about the possibility of a $40,000 subsidy cap on crop insurance (Perdue doesn’t think Congress will let it go through).
Perdue praised the production he’d seen during his tour of the Midwest. “We’ve seen some mighty good crops. Before I took this job, I was in the grain elevator business in Georgia and South Carolina, and I just salivate for these kind of corn and bean crops down there. You make it look mighty good. I hope you have a good finish to the season with enough rain, and grow over 75 bushels of soybeans and 250 bushels of corn.”
Smith said they were joined for dinner by Rep. John Shimkus, and were able to talk about both the Waters of the U.S. rule and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to “peel back layers of onion on the regulation side.”
Liz Harder, Farm Credit IllinoisEASY SEAT: Dennis Smith said they presented a director’s chair to Perdue, who responded, “I could’ve used this while I was waiting on appointment!”
As many fair board members can likely imagine, Perdue’s visit in the midst of fair week was both exciting and challenging for the fair and for Smith, who’s served on the fair board for nearly 30 years. They got a call from Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks ago and set the wheels in motion.
“They found us — we did not find them,” Smith said, laughing. “We try to set our sights high, but we never dreamed that high!”
Smith said many of Perdue’s people have farm backgrounds, and all “were just as nice as they could be.”
“If Washington was run by people like the secretary and his wife, we wouldn’t have any problems,” Smith said. “He’s a regular guy. Veterinarian, sharp guy, down to earth.”