U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told farmers from around the country attending an agriculture meeting in San Antonio Friday they can worry less about trade wars and tariffs in the coming year and “plant for the market.”

Despite ongoing trade negotiations and other market threats, farmers should set aside the “trade not aid” concerns brought about by President Donald Trump’s trade wars and the subsequent USDA Market Facilitation Program, and plan for markets returning to normal, Perdue said.

However, “[Trump] will not let farmers suffer if trade continues to be disrupted by any kind of force,” Perdue said. “He’s got your back.”

Perdue spoke at the Commodity Classic, an annual agriculture conference attended this year by over 9,000 people at the Henry B. González Convention Center. Perdue’s talk followed a pre-recorded address from Trump in which the president said he is committed to supporting farmers. The brief message was met by rousing applause.

Commodity Classic is an annual conference and trade show that began in 1996 and is produced by the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Sorghum Producers, and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

As the cabinet secretary for the agency that manages the nation’s public policy on food, agriculture, rural development, and nutrition, Perdue thanked farmers for feeding and clothing the world.

“Our motto is … to do right and feed everyone,” he said. “We’ve got a social responsibility to provide affordable, available food, not only for our people but for the world. God’s blessed us with a great fertile country here, and we’ve got an obligation to feed people wherever they may live across this globe.”

He urged farmers to talk more about what they do and the “good job of American agriculture – the facts are with us and we need to start talking about them,” especially to their elected representatives.

The ag secretary also told a capacity crowd in the convention center ballroom that in addition to improving infrastructure such as inland waterways, rail, and bridges to foster the transfer of goods, the USDA is working on improving broadband connectivity in rural areas, including three areas in Texas.

“There’s so much technology out there that all of us depend on today that depends on connectivity,” he said. “Your families deserve that.”

But most of Perdue’s talk centered on trade and the impact of tariffs imposed by the administration in recent years and the effect of trade wars on the $830 billion U.S. agriculture industry.

He said the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), signed into law in January, will bring fairness to trade, he said, especially in the dairy and wheat industries.

“Certainly, being able to have those markets go forward is very important,” Perdue said.

But negotiations over other trade deals drag on. “So while I know some of us may [have] a ‘show-me type of attitude’ – we will believe it when we see it – we’re seeing evidence China, in fact, intends to comply with [trade agreements] … Right now, we will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Perdue reassured farmers that he understood they would rather farm than accept financial assistance to compensate them for losses in the wake of trade wars. “It was always better if you can have a big crop, at a fair price, rather than having to depend on any kind of government payment or anything like that,” he said.

“So, in 2020, I’m telling you all to do what you do and plant for the market. We believe we will see prices rise as these commodities start to flow again.”

While Perdue did not speak about immigration reform and meeting labor demands, he addressed concerns that the worldwide coronavirus outbreak will contribute to future market declines for farmers.

“Once again, I’m proud of the president and Vice President Pence for their preventive action and helping to keep us safe while not panicking about this,” he said. “I think you all need to go back to your jobs in the way that you have been, producing safe, reliable, abundant food for all of us, and that way that’s the best thing we can do.

“Hopefully we can get past this coronavirus pandemic very quickly and get back into trade.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.