Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue addresses Delta Council

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2017

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

Sonny Perdue was sworn in as the 31st Secretary of Agriculture less than two months ago, but he has already made a trip to Mississippi, delivering a forward-looking address at this year’s Delta Council meeting. 

The former governor of Georgia and first Southerner to head the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in more than two decades shared his commitment to future prosperity and growth in rural America.  It was an honor for me to introduce him at the event.

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The Delta Council has been promoting agriculture and economic development in our state’s 18 Delta counties since the Great Depression.  In his speech, Secretary Perdue commended the organization’s long history, its support for improving lives, and the example it sets for civic responsibility.  He also praised the partnership between USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Mississippi State University in Stoneville, remarking during his speech that he had “never seen a better collaboration between state and federal partners.”

Heart, Soul, and Rolled-Up Sleeves

The Trump Administration’s attention to the unique challenges and needs of rural communities should be encouraging to Mississippians in all parts of our state, not just the Delta.  As the Secretary noted, the recovery from the Great Recession has been slow in rural areas of the country, with high rates of poverty and dwindling populations. 

To reverse that trend, he told the crowd, “You’ve got my heart, soul, and my rolled-up-sleeves hard work to make sure rural America gets its fair share and prospers over the next decade in this United States of America.”

Secretary Perdue also outlined a broad plan for this success.  He promised to support solution-driven collaboration in the federal government, the elimination of onerous regulations, innovation in rural areas such as broadband development, and market access for U.S. agriculture through free and fair trade.  I support these goals, and I look forward to working with Secretary Perdue and the entire Administration to achieve them.

As chairman of the Senate subcommittee for Internet issues, I am pleased with the Secretary’s interest in rural broadband deployment.  Not only can this infrastructure help spur economic growth, but it also paves the way for advancements in telehealth and precision agriculture.

Congress Turns to USDA Budget, Farm Bill

Just a few days after delivering the Delta Council’s keynote address, Secretary Perdue appeared before the agriculture subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget for USDA.  In that hearing, he underscored his role as a voice for rural America.  He also noted strategic changes to the organization of the department, with the Rural Development program now reporting directly to the Secretary’s office.  He reiterated in his prepared testimony that the “economic vitality of small towns across America is crucial to the future of the agriculture economy.”

Alongside budget and appropriations considerations, Congress and USDA are looking ahead to the next Farm Bill.  The negotiations surrounding this important piece of legislation are crucial to our state and our farmers, who produce food and fiber for the nation and world.  As these talks progress, I am glad the new agriculture secretary has already had a chance to hear directly from Mississippians during his time in the Delta.  I am hopeful it will be one of many visits.