Spring 2019

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

Last Sunday former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar died.  He served 36 years in the U.S. Senate – what an outstanding leader and great guy.  In 1985 we had to write and pass a new farm bill.  As Secretary of Agriculture I wanted to create the Conservation Reserve Program.  I worked with Senator Lugar to get that done.  That spring 1985 I flew to Indianapolis and on the 600-acre Lugar farm with the Senator at my side, I announced the Conservation Reserve Program.   

Another experience with Senator Lugar – there’s a picture hanging in my office.  I am looking at it now.  There we are side by side.  This time not on a farm, but in our running clothes with 100 other runners.  We had just completed the Gov’t 3 mile run south of USDA.  He will be missed.

Now I want to say something about the agricultural chief scientists from 20 countries that met in Japan last week.  Their focus was on advancing global food production, science and technology.  Population in the world is growing, people are living longer.  We are going to need to produce more food.  They remind us of the risk that we face with a world population traveling from country to country.  Who knows what disease or plant problem may end up in my field.

We worry now about African Swine Fever finding its way to our farms.  China has lost 20 percent of their hogs.  We don’t have foot and mouth disease, but some other countries do.

On the positive side, in recent years suddenly we have gene editing and genetic engineering technologies that are revolutionizing the food production industry.  We can’t imagine what is coming next.  It is a good thing that the world’s leading agriculture scientists are looking to the future.  With farm income half what it was 4 years ago, river floods and storms – times are tough.  We need some good news. 

President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played a round of golf last Saturday. We hope that will lead to a quick Ag- only trade pact with Japan.  President Trump travels to Japan later this month.  Keep your fingers crossed.

I will close with a quick update on the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade agreement.  Passing it is not going to be easy.  Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley says if President Trump does not lift steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, “USMCA is dead.”  There are some difficult hurdles, but I still think we can get it done.

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, just go online to www.johnblockreports.com.

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