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Opinion >  Editorial

Perdue offers hope for farming issues in Trump administration

It’s not Sonny Perdue’s fault he is late to work, but his inbox must be jammed.

He was the last Cabinet member President Donald Trump nominated, and, on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed him as the secretary of agriculture. Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell voted yes.

Some fear this is a reflection of the low priority the president places on agriculture, which would be ironic given his overwhelming vote totals in rural areas.

Iowa State University political scientist Mack Shelley told National Public Radio: “I think it is crystal-clear that this is not the No. 1 objective of the current Republican leadership at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The president’s stances on trade and immigration do not bode well for farmers who rely on foreign markets and migrant labor. His budget calls for a 21 percent cut at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Programs that assist farmers would be potentially cut.

However, Perdue’s views offer some hope for longer-term stability. It wouldn’t make sense for Trump to nominate him and then ignore him.

Farming is already a high-stakes venture, as illustrated in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review’s report on potato farmers. The markets are competitive. The profit margins are low. Federal policies that constrict markets and increase labor costs would make it even riskier.

The state counts greatly on a healthy agricultural sector. Potatoes are worth an annual $7.4 billion to Washington’s economy and account for 36,000 jobs. Idaho, of course, is the potato capital of the United States.

Wheat, peas, lentils, apples and other crops are also vital to Washington’s economy.

Seventy percent of the state’s potatoes are sold in foreign markets. Japan buys more potatoes from Washington than anywhere else. China is also a large market for agriculture products, so early threats from the Trump administration of tariffs had farmers worried about retaliation.

The threat seems to have passed, thanks to cordial talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump had also threatened to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, but he appears to be backing off after a telephone chat with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It’s unfortunate he didn’t reconsider his pledge to torpedo the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would’ve opened more foreign markets to U.S. farmers. TPP would’ve boosted Washington state’s export income by $246 million per year and added more than 1,350 jobs, according to the Farm Bureau.

Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, grew up on a farm and sold fertilizer and seeds to farmers before becoming a veterinarian. He understands the interplay of trade, agriculture and immigration.

Hopefully, Perdue can gain the president’s ear and convey the importance of farming, especially in the rural communities that helped propel him to the White House.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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