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US Ag Secretary Perdue hears farm group concerns during North Dakota visit, extends MFP payment deadline

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, left, and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., share some levity as they listen to agricultural group leaders discuss trade and implementation of the 2018 farm bill, among other things at Peterson Farms Seed headquarters near Harwood, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service1 / 2
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue cuts the ribbon for the “makerspace” building and laboratory for Grand Farm, an “autonomous farm” project, to be built on two acres of a 40-acre plot on the east side of Interstate Highway 29 south of Fargo. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service2 / 2

HARWOOD, N.D. — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Saturday, April 27, heard a parade of North Dakota farm group leaders offer support, but also concern about ongoing damage from trade wars before announcing an extension for the Market Facilitation Program payment deadline.

Perdue appeared at a roundtable event in Cass County hosted by U.S. Sen. John Hoven, R-N.D., and flanked by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, among others.

The secretary said his boss, President Donald Trump, has an “affinity for the risk-takers of agriculture.” Trade is the “No. 1 issue, north, south, east and west,” Perdue acknowledged, referring to soybean trade disruptions involving China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

He says he is cheered by President Trump, telling his trade negotiators “I want you to take care of my farmers. That’s what empowers me." Perdue noted he’d “never known an administration that had a heart for agriculture and farmers the way this guy does.”

“The difficulty with China, while things are very optimistic, it’s never over until it’s over with China,” Perdue said. “I don’t want to raise expectations, because if it happens it’s going to be very, very, very good. The numbers they put on the table as far as ag purchases are extremely favorable.”

He said the Chinese “get you right up to the feed trough and take the bucket away.”

Soybean concerns

Monte Peterson, a Valley City farmer and national director with the American Soybean Association, said that after several months of zero exports from Pacific Northwest ports, there have now been 16 weeks in a row when there have been exports to those ports.

However, Peterson noted the “trend does not look promising” because total soy exports lag 28% on the marketing year, with trade 52% down in the PNW ports and exports to China lagging 65% behind last year’s totals.

Hoeven also acknowledged he’s pressing the trade team to reach an agreement with China and keep trade in motion.

“It’s not that we’ve got to get sales done with China,” he said. “It’s to get sales going now.”

He said it takes more time to move agreements through Congress than it does to make executive agreements.

If the trade deal doesn’t get done, Perdue said he doesn’t see any new Market Facilitation Program payments moving forward for 2019.

“Just like farmers have always done, we’ve got to look at markets and plan for where we are right now,” Perdue said.

MFP extension and other impacts

Perdue announced an extension to May 17 for farmers offering production proof of 2018 crop yields to apply for Market Facilitation Program payments. Soybeans are paid $1.65 per bushel through the program. That could help an estimated 5% of state producers who still have unharvested crops from last year due to snow, particularly in the east-central and south-central areas of North Dakota.

Among other things, Perdue urged farm groups to become active on social media to offset what he called a “social attack on meat production.” He said the Food and Drug Administration oversees development of cellular-based products sometimes called “fake meat,” but he noted the USDA will regulate how it is produced, harvested, labeled and processed. Hoeven noted he has the FDA’s budget in his agricultural appropriations subcommittee.

Others in the meeting said trade disruptions have had major impacts on canola and dry edible beans. Perdue indicated he was concerned about cutbacks in sunflower and potato research levels by the Agricultural Research Service in the region.

'Autonomous farm'

After talking to farm and political leaders, Perdue helped cut a ceremonial ribbon to launch Grand Farm, a planned “autonomous farm” research and development site south of Fargo in Horace.

The Grand Farm project, just east of Exit 54 on Interstate Highway 29, is a brainchild of entrepreneurial and high-tech leaders, including Barry Batcheller, one of the region’s foremost agricultural entrepreneurs.

Batcheller said the project will bring millions in investment and will be a “makerspace” that allows the region to stay at the forefront of a new wave of agricultural research involving artificial intelligence and autonomous farming.