Fed ag chief to dairy farmers: We’ve got your back

U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, left, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue, right, address reporters following last week's round table discussion at the Chobani factory in Chenango County.

NEW BERLIN — The federal government’s top agricultural official descended upon central New York last week for a roundtable discussion at the Chobani yogurt factory regarding challenges facing the dairy industry.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, invited by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, updated central New York’s agriculture community about the USMCA trade agreement, NAFTA’s replacement.

The fallout of trade tensions with China and mounting tariffs have squeezed farmers across the state and Brindisi, speaking to reporters afterward, said anytime he could invite a president’s cabinet member to speak to his constituents was “a win for our community.”

“There are lots of struggles our farmers are facing right now,” Brindisi said. “[Secretary Perdue] has been very attentive to all their needs, whether it’s trade issues or immigration — you name it.”

Perdue began by touting the federal farm bill and the newly renegotiated trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico — USMCA for short — which Brindisi said he was working with a bipartisan agriculture committee to pass through Congress.   

“I think if you look at it objectively, chapter by chapter, line by line, any objective person can acknowledge that it’s a better deal in virtually all aspects,” Perdue said.

Secretary Perdue said the deal, expected to be approved later this year, modernizes the trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, although not everybody got what they wanted out of it.

“Where we are in the United States is that...it’s really a matter of going to Congress,” Perdue said.  “I’ve got some people in my district in Georgia in seasonal fruit and they didn’t get any improvement out of this and they were a little disappointed by this. But they didn’t go backwards either.”  

Perdue assured local farmers that President Donald Trump remained committed to their livelihoods throughout the negotiations in matters of intellectual property theft and retaliatory tariffs.

“To his credit, President Trump knew it’d be painful but he’s called [China] out, saying, ‘You’ve got to play fair.’” Perdue said. “If you’d been selling your milk to a co-op or whoever and you found out they’d been cheating you all these years, would you keep selling to them?”

Perdue regaled a time when the president turned to this chief negotiating team and after congratulating them for the progress they had made on intellectual property said, “I want you take care of my farmers.”

“I don’t understand how a guy who grew up in New York City and New York state realty has that kind of affection and affinity for [farmers],” Perdue said.

Fallout in trade negotiations between China and the U.S. has resulted in American farmers finding new export markets, often with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Roughly $100 million in the USDA’s aid package has been committed to helping domestic farmers reduce their dependency on exporting to China.

Perdue described this portion of the aid package as helping industry groups — such as Dairy Farmers of America — to “go build new markets.”

“What we have is collaborators for soybean, corn... all the sectors and that’s what we want to collaborate in with them,” he said in an interview afterward with The Palladium-Times. “We can’t be totally dependent on China. We’ve got to look at Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and India.”

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