Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue confirmed as US ag secretary

By Anna Simet | April 25, 2017

In an 87-11 vote, on April 24, the U.S. Senate confirmed Sonny Perdue as the 31st U.S. secretary of agriculture.

Perdue brings to the USDA a farming background and lengthy career of public service, ranging from Captain in the U.S. Airforce, to 11 years as a Georgia state Senator, to a two-term governor. As governor of Georgia, according to his USDA biography, Perdue was credited with transforming a budget deficit into a surplus, dramatically increasing student performance in public schools, and fostering an economic environment that allowed employers to flourish and manufacturers and agricultural producers to achieve record levels of exports.

Perdue followed these accomplishments with a successful career in agribusiness, where he focused on commodities and transportation in enterprises that have spanned the southeastern U.S, according to the USDA.

After taking his oath of office on April 25, Perdue addressed USDA employees with a speech highlighting his planned policies as USDA secretary, and accompanying principles that will guide them, which include maximizing the ability of the agriculture and agribusiness sectors to create jobs;  prioritizing customer service for American taxpayers and consumers by conducting business efficiently and effectively; continuing to serve in the critical role of ensuring the food meets strict safety standards; and  practicing sound land stewardship. 

During his speech, Perdue emphasized the significance of international trade to the U.S. agriculture industry, and the need for a strong advocate to promote its interests to international markets.  “One challenge I heard as I visited over 75 Senators was that we need to have a good trade policy,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff we need to sell…we will sell it worldwide; trade will be at the top of our agenda, as well as other things…I want to recognize that our producers and ranchers and foresters across this land, and what they put on the line. We have people on the farms and in the forests and ranches of the nation who are working today…our hearts need to be with them doing the hard jobs, because they give us our jobs, and we need to work for them day in and day out.”

Perdue added that his vision for the USDA is for the agency to be “fact and evidence-based,” he said, making decisions and polities based on sound science, and for the USDA to be “just innovative as our producers. Just as solution-based, just as forward-thinking about where we go, where we take this agency in the future.”

Members of the biofuels, bioenergy and forestry industries have welcomed Perdue’s confirmation. In previous statements on his nomination, the Biomass Power Association pointed out that, under Perdue’s leadership, the state of Georgia embraced bioenergy in many forms, including biomass power. The state is currently home to 162 MW of biomass power capacity, according to the BPA, with more due to come online this year. Under Perdue’s leadership, a 17-MW biomass facility opened in North Georgia, and construction began on a 50-MW facility in LaGrange and a 55-MW facility in Barnesville. Perdue also supported the development of other wood energy projects including wood pellet plants and biofuels production.

On Perdue’s confirmation, Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said, “We congratulate Secretary Perdue on his confirmation to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture and look forward to working with him to advance the biofuels industry and move American agriculture forward. The success of rural America is inextricably linked to a strong Renewable Fuel Standard and growing adoption of higher ethanol blends at the pump. The USDA has played an integral role in this success and we are excited to see Secretary Perdue’s plans to continue leading the way in protecting the economic wellbeing of America’s farmers, while giving consumers the choice for homegrown biofuels at the pump.”

“We look forward to working with Gov. Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote growth in the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board. “The benefits of a robust Renewable Fuel Standard extend far beyond the biodiesel industry—supporting high-paying jobs, lower fuel costs and clean air in communities across the nation. We appreciate the governor’s support of the RFS and of the U.S. farmers, manufacturers and workers who deliver renewable fuel as a result of the program.”

Many other forestry groups such as the Forest Landowners and the National Alliance of Forest Owners also issued statements of approval.