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John Block: Perdue’s Agenda

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

It’s only been a week since confirmation, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has hit the ground running.  He has ordered that schools be given more flexibility in their school lunch programs, more local control.  They won’t be forced to reduce the sodium (salt) in the food served.  He wants the food served to taste good.  Also, schools can apply for a whole grain waiver.  Perdue said, “Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals.”  His stance is consistent with President Trump.  They don’t want the federal government dictating everything.

The Secretary of Agriculture has a long list of responsibilities.  Nutrition programs are 60% of the budget.  Trade is high on the list.  Perdue wants to negotiate a trade deal with China.  His deal would be “China – you buy our beef and we will buy your chicken.”  They import $2.6 billion worth of beef, but none from us.

Closer to home, we have other trade disputes to confront.  Our milk market in Canada is not open and Canada subsidizes their lumber exports to us.  Thanks to Secretary Perdue’s influence, President Trump is not going to rip up NAFTA.  That’s good.

Countries all over the world take steps to encourage favorable trade for their country.  It can be tariffs, non-tariff barriers, or subsidies.  The U.S. is not without our own distortions, but we have fewer barriers than most countries.

Hopefully, President Trump’s nominee for Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthiser, will get confirmed this week.  Our industry exports 25% of what we produce.  It is critical that our Trade Representative be confirmed.  President Trump wants to renegotiate all of our trade agreements.  

Beyond the U.S. Trade Representative, Secretary Perdue needs to nominate his USDA Trade Under Secretary.  When I was Secretary of Agriculture for President Reagan, I worked with President Reagan’s Trade Ambassador, Bill Brock, all the time.  It is in Secretary Perdue’s best interest to build close relationships with other members of the President’s Cabinet.  I know he will.  He has served as Governor of Georgia and appreciates the value of allies.

I said Secretary Perdue is not sitting idle.  He is going to Iowa later this week.  Will he meet with Iowa State Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey?  The word is that Northey is under consideration for Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.  There is a lot going on.  I didn’t even mention that Perdue wants to increase the acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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