U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with Alabama farmers May 3 to hear their ideas for the farm bill Congress is drafting. Perdue held the meeting at the request of Alabama’s U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.
About 20 farmers attended a roundtable discussion with Perdue at Sam Spruell’s Marion County farm near Guin.
“I’m here to listen,” said Perdue, who leads the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “I want to know what the federal government can do to help your productivity and your profitability.”
Alabama Farmers Federation North Area Vice President Rex Vaughn of Huntsville inquired about rumors that USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) would be streamlined or combined. Perdue confirmed that plan but said combining the software and technology of the agencies will take time.
“In civil service, sometimes you hear ‘That’s not my job,’ but when it comes to FSA and NRCS, farmers are always our job,” Perdue said.
He noted farmers often visit one agency then the other to fill out required paperwork for farm programs. Streamlining would simplify things for farmers, he said.
“I want our farmers to be able to say USDA is the most efficient, most effective and most customer-focused agency in federal government,” he said.
Other discussions included farm bill cotton provisions, trade impacts on agriculture, milk price programs and crop insurance.
Perdue toured Spruell’s farm, where he saw a new furrow irrigation system. The system includes a holding pond, fed in part from a nearby stream. During rainy seasons, excess water from the stream is stored in an irrigation pond. A gravity-fed system supplies water from the pond to nearby row crops, and excess irrigation water is pumped back into the holding pond, protecting nearby steams and preventing erosion.
“This is a very innovative thing,” Perdue said. “You may see something like this in the Delta, but you just don’t usually see this in Alabama and Georgia. It shows how innovative and creative agriculturists are across the country.”
Spruell said it was an honor to have Perdue, Aderholt and others on his farm.
“We count on Rep. Aderholt and other elected officials to make our views known in Washington, especially when policy is being made,” Spruell said. “Having them here, visiting with farmers face-to-face and seeing what’s happening on our farms, helps reinforce that message.”
Later that day, Aderholt and Perdue joined more than 100 farmers and local leaders in Hamilton for lunch. That afternoon, they joined Gov. Kay Ivey in Winfield for a $3 million USDA broadband grant announcement for Tombigbee Communications, part of Tombigbee Electric Cooperative. The project seeks to bring high-speed internet fiber optic services to all homes in Winston, Fayette, Lamar and Marion counties.
by Debra Davis, Alabama Farmers Federation