U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today applauded the accomplishments made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over the past year. In the first year of the Trump Administration, USDA made breakthroughs in agricultural trade, moved to reduce burdensome regulations, responded to natural disasters, and battled through the worst fire season on record, among other notable achievements.
“As 2017 comes to an end, the hard-working civil servants who make up USDA have a great deal to be proud of,” said Perdue. “Unlike any other federal department, USDA touches the lives of each individual in this country every day. In the wake of hurricanes, forest fires, and everything in between, the dedicated professionals at USDA worked tirelessly to serve the American people. As we look ahead to 2018, USDA will continue our efforts to be the most effective, efficient, and customer focused department in the entire federal government.”
Since being sworn in on April 25th, Secretary Perdue has visited 30 states and six foreign countries, conducting outreach to rural and agricultural stakeholders promoting President Donald Trump’s agenda. During his travels – and through two RV Tours covering over 2,200 miles in the midwest and northeast – Perdue met with farmers, ranchers, foresters, and many other stakeholders to seek input to help Congress craft the 2018 Farm Bill and solicit feedback for USDA to increase rural prosperity.
Additionally, USDA increased its efforts to attract youth to agriculture, including signing a memoranda of understanding with National FFA and separately with SCORE, an organization of business-oriented mentors. At many of his stops across America, Secretary Perdue interacted with National FFA and 4-H students to encourage the next generation to enter fields of agriculture.
Secretary Perdue undertook a significant reorganization of USDA, including the creation of the first-ever Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, as directed by the 2014 Farm Bill. As part of the reorganization, Perdue implemented a strategic vision focused on modernizing Information Technology, facilities, and support services; streamlining processes; engaging stakeholders; and improving stewardship of resources. Additionally, Perdue established an Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, solidifying his commitment to improving USDA customer service by bringing together three of the Department’s most customer-facing agencies: Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Risk Management Agency.
USDA scored significant trade victories during 2017, including the reentry of U.S. beef to China after a 13-year hiatus; Chinese market access for U.S. rice for the first time ever; easing of regulations on U.S. citrus into the European Union; gaining approval for new biotech varieties in China; resumption of U.S. distillers dried grains into Vietnam and China; reentry of U.S. chipping potatoes into Japan; and lifting of South Korea’s ban on imports of U.S. poultry.
School Meals and Reduced Regulations
Responding to the concerns of local school nutrition workers and students, USDA moved to restore flexibility in order to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation. The new School Meal Flexibility Rule makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and asks customers to share their thoughts on those changes with the Department.
Overall, USDA worked to reduce regulatory burdens on Americans and identified 27 final rules across the Department that will be completed in 2018 which will save an estimated $56.15 million.
USDA’s Forest Service responded to the worst fire season on record, deploying over 25,000 personnel and spending $2.9 billion fighting fires across the nation. Through the leadership of the Trump Administration, there is now bipartisan, bicameral support to invest in forest management and address inadequate fire funding after decades of inaction.
USDA helped feed people and assist producers who experienced devastating losses across five states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Assistance included direct delivery of food packages, waivers and flexibilities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, approval of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, waivers for free school meals, and supplies of infant formula and baby food. USDA staff were deployed across hurricane-stricken regions to provide timely assistance through various emergency conservation, clean-up, and indemnity programs while authorizing additional time flexibilities for reporting losses and completing requests for assistance. Secretary Perdue provided Puerto Rico with a one-of-a-kind program that covered dairy cattle feed costs to prevent herd losses following virtually complete destruction of feed across the island.
Secretary Perdue chaired the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, created by President Trump’s executive order, to seek ways to improve quality of life and increase prosperity across rural America. The Task Force, made up of 22 cabinet departments and federal agencies, has submitted its final report to the White House with concrete recommendations for improving the economic situation across America’s heartland.
Secretary Perdue launched a USDA initiative to provide comprehensive and timely support to veterans interested in opportunities in agriculture, agribusiness, and in rural America. USDA wants to ensure veterans looking to return home, or start a new career on a farm or in a rural community have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. The resources include a website and a USDA-wide AgLearn curriculum to allow all employees to understand the unique opportunities offered to our nation’s veterans.
USDA unveiled a new mobile application for Apple and Android devices to provide Executive Branch employees answers to questions about government ethics issues. The USDA Ethics App is the first of its kind in the federal government and reaffirms Perdue’s commitment to applying President Trump’s government-wide ethics standards to the department. The Ethics App brings to users’ fingertips short, easy-to-read summaries of federal ethics rules and Hatch Act limitations on political activity. It includes a comprehensive video library so that officials can quickly become familiar with these important rules at any time, whether in the office, off-site, or on official travel. It also contains a resources section so USDA employees can readily contact an ethics advisor at USDA. The groundbreaking application was designed to make compliance with the federal ethics rules a one-stop-shop for USDA employees, but the app is available to anyone with Android devices or Apple devices .
USDA Agency Accomplishments
USDA is made up of 29 agencies and offices with nearly 100,000 employees who serve the American people at more than 4,500 locations across the country. While each mission area’s accomplishments may be found by using the links below, notable accomplishments are as follows:
- Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provided significant support in negotiations that re-opened the market for U.S. beef to be exported to China for the first time in 13 years.
- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) added information on nearly 140,000 food items to the Branded Food Products Database, which makes it easier to find nutrients contained in manufactured or brand-name foods sold in supermarkets.
- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continued its work to ensure the free flow of agricultural trade by keeping U.S. agriculture industries free from pests and diseases. APHIS opened a potential $50 million live animal market in Kyrgyzstan, opened the sugar beet market in China, and reopened the $220 million dried distillers grain market in Vietnam, amongst many others.
- Economic Research Service (ERS) conducted research which found that USDA’s school meal programs generally reduce food insecurity and contribute to diet quality and academic performance for children from low-income and food-insecure households.
- Farm Service Agency (FSA), in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, provided special procedures to assist producers in states and territories most severely impacted and dispatched additional staff to the affected areas.
- Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) continued its work to modernize operations and inspection systems to be more effective, efficient, and focus on food safety related tasks.
- Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) worked tirelessly with other state and federal authorities, including FEMA, to ensure all those in natural disaster related areas were able to get the food they needed. FNS provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of nutritious food, provided disaster supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits to low income households and allowed schools in the hardest-hit areas to serve children meals for free.
- Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) organized trade missions to Egypt, Brazil, and India which generated more than $30 million in projected sales as a part of its ongoing efforts to help U.S. agribusiness expand its global reach.
- Forest Service (FS) increased wildfire mitigation efforts in high risk communities and launched a USDA-led national coalition to confront the high costs of suppressing wildfires, which totaled $2.9 billion in 2017.
- National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) launched the census of agriculture with an improved online questionnaire and items to document changes and emerging trends in agriculture.
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) invested in projects that resulted in transformative discoveries to meet our societal challenges. Research gains include making strides in combatting citrus greening, using plant products to treat Salmonella, and lowering ammonia emissions at livestock facilities.
- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded contracts for historically underserved customers, including socially disadvantaged, limited-resource, and veteran farmers and ranchers, exceeding $553 million to treat more than 11.3 million acres of working land.
- Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) supported American agriculture and USDA decision making with timely, accurate economic intelligence on the season’s natural disasters, trade and domestic policy proposals, deregulatory actions, budgetary issues, and consequences of both real and potential market disruptions. The office expanded environmental market opportunities releasing a new information portal for farmers, ranchers, and foresters regarding data from water, carbon, and biodiversity projects as well as state and regional policies.
- Risk Management Agency (RMA) streamlined claims procedures in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and diligently worked to increase program integrity by reducing its improper payment rate.
- Rural Development (RD) provided funding for 34 telecommunications infrastructure projects that will deliver new or improved broadband service to more than 160,000 households and businesses.