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Monday 19 March 2018

US Senate confirms Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary

Sonny Perdue arrives on Capitol Hill to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee (AP)
Sonny Perdue arrives on Capitol Hill to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee (AP)

The Senate has confirmed former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be agriculture secretary in President Donald Trump's administration.

The Senate voted to confirm Mr Perdue 87-11. The son of a farmer from Bonaire, Georgia, he will be the first Southerner in the post in more than two decades.

At his confirmation hearing in March, Mr Perdue assured nervous farm-state senators that he will advocate for rural America, even as Mr Trump has proposed deep cuts to some farm programmes. He also promised to reach out to Democrats.

Still, Mr Perdue, 70, is getting a late start on the job. Mr Trump nominated him just two days before his inauguration, and then the nomination was delayed for weeks as the administration prepared his ethics paperwork. Mr Perdue eventually said he would step down from several companies bearing his name to avoid conflicts of interest.

As agriculture secretary, he will be in charge of around 100,000 employees and the nation's food and farm programmes, including agricultural subsidies, conservation efforts, rural development programmes, food safety and nutrition programmes such as food stamps and federally-subsidised school meals.

Mr Perdue will take office as farm prices have been down for several years in a row and some parts of the industry, including cotton and dairy farmers, say they need the department and Congress to rewrite agricultural policy to help revive their business.

At his hearing, he pledged to help senators sustain popular crop insurance programmes and fix problems with government dairy programmes.

Mr Perdue may also find himself in the uncomfortable position of defending agriculture in an administration that has so far given the issue limited attention, despite Mr Trump's strong support in rural areas. Mr Trump has proposed a 21% cut in US Department of Agriculture (USDA) programmes and has harshly criticised some international trade deals, saying they have killed American jobs. But farmers who produce more than they can sell in the United States have heavily profited from some of those deals, and are hoping his anti-trade policies will include some exceptions for agriculture.

At the hearing, Mr Perdue said he would be a "tenacious advocate and fighter" for rural America when dealing with the White House and other agencies and noted a growing middle class around the world that is hungry for US products.

"Food is a noble thing to trade," Mr Perdue said.

The White House has not said when Mr Perdue will be sworn in, but he is scheduled to speak to USDA staff on Tuesday morning.


Press Association

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