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John Block: The U.S. Department of Ag Team

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking a very long time to fill some of our most important management positions. The Administration has 4 under secretary posts unfilled and 3 Assistant Secretary jobs unannounced. Sec. Perdue’s choice for the newly created farm services and conservation post, Bill Northey, should have already been confirmed by now. But no — Republican Senator Ted Cruz has put a hold on him. Cruz thinks he can force some concession on the renewable fuels issue. He is doing this for the oil industry.

Greg Doud, our nominee to be U.S. Trade’s Chief Agriculture Negotiator has been blocked by Sen. Jeff Flake (R. Ariz.). Flake wants something out of the NAFTA negotiations on tomatoes.

For Republican Senators to block Sec. Perdue’s choices for these very important jobs is terrible. It is blackmail.

I know how faithful and capable the career employees are at U.S.D.A. However having led the Agriculture Department myself, I know how important it is for the Secretary to have his team in place.

The other issue that I will put on the table is much more positive – Trade.  U.S. Ag exports in fiscal year 2017 jumped $10.9 billion to $140.5 billion – the 3rd highest level on record. The U.S. Ag industry has run a trade surplus for over 50 years. Our trade surplus of $21.3 billion this year was 30% above last year.

Sec. Perdue had this to say: “U.S. Agriculture depends on trade. We hope to open additional markets. I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy. If American Ag producers keep growing it, USDA will keep helping to sell it around the world.”

China is our largest customer buying $22 billion worth of product. Canada is number 2 at $20.4 billion, and Mexico is number 3 at $18.6 billion. Soybeans are the leader in commodity exports reaching $24 billion followed by (you guessed it) corn at $9.7 billion.

Exports are responsible for 20% of U.S. farm income. I think the case is pretty clear. Don’t screw up a good thing as we pursue trade negotiations with other countries. It’s time to get Ag trade negotiator Greg Doud confirmed along with the other Department of Agriculture leadership.

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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