Rapid City: Leaders talk local ag with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue | TSLN.com

Rapid City: Leaders talk local ag with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue

Around 50 people joined newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Rapid City May 19, 2017, to talk about agriculture in the region – from farming to forestry.

South Dakota Stockgrowers Association President Bill Kluck said he appreciated the chance to address Perdue about a number of topics relating to the cattle industry.

Of the approximately 30 people at the meeting, less than ten of them spoke, and Kluck said he was the only person to present Perdue with a hard copy of his ideas. He handed Perdue several sheets of paper encouraging support for country of origin labeling for beef, reform for the Packers and Stockyards Act, limited changes to the current animal traceability system, and more.

"I told him that we'd like to see Trump follow through with his commitment to overhaul NAFTA," said Kluck.

“He’s from Georgia where they have lots of forest management. He’s used to seeing it.” Tom Troxel, executive director of the Intermountain Forest Association

The Mud Butte, South Dakota, rancher also mentioned the Pautre fire and the lack of compensation for the fire victims. "That was one thing that really seemed to hit home to him," said Kluck. "He really sat up and listened and asked several questions about that. I think he was truly interested and concerned."

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Hermosa, South Dakota, rancher Tif Robertson, who serves as the chair of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce Ag and Natural Resources Committee said it was an honor and inspiration to meet Perdue and to welcome him to Rapid City.

"It was an educational day, talking about ag policy and the farm bill and listening to great leaders," she said.

"Secretary Perdue realizes and encourages us as rural South Dakota leaders to continue to market and tell our story – that our products are safe, abundant, affordable and right here! He assured us that the U.S. stamp means business. We will make America great again!"

Robertson said she believes Perdue genuinely understands the impact of international trade to the cattle producer. "I really admire his scientific approach. He was a veterinarian as well as a producer – he understands about getting our hands dirty to make a living," she said.

The former veterinarian, former Georgia governor and current grain elevator operator was willing to get his boots dirty anyway, making the trek to view the Black Hills National Forest with several others prior to the meeting.

Perdue, who had traveled to South Dakota in part to visit about a new program to pair veterans with ag-related jobs, first went to case number one, the site of the nation's first ever timber sale which took place in 1899.

Tom Troxel, Executive Director of the Intermountain Forest Association, joined Perdue, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) for an excursion into the forest where they talked about two important topics, said Troxel.

"Virtually everyone who lives in the Black Hills has two concerns – mountain pine beetles and fire," said Troxel.

He and a few others on the short trip talked to Perdue about the nature of the mountain pine beetle and how forest management including thinning can greatly reduce damage from the bug.

"He was totally on board, but he was way out in front on that. He's from Georgia where they have lots of forest management. He's used to seeing it," said Troxel.

Perdue relayed strong support for active forest management and was impressed with the level of cooperation in the BHNF between government agencies, the private sector and the public.

"It was fun. He was comfortable talking about all if it," Troxel said.

Two photos that showed a side-by-side comparison of trees that had been thinned and were healthy next to trees that had not been thinned and were dead from a mountain pine beetle infestation fascinated Perdue.

He was so impressed, in fact, that in a House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on May 25, he displayed the two photos for the committee members to see, and talked about the success of the BHNF in thinning the forest and greatly reducing the mountain pine beetle in his committee testimony.

Much of the committee discussion was focused on reducing fire damage and firefighting expenses for the U.S. Forest Service.

Increased timber sales would help prevent fires, said Rep Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), in the committee meeting, adding that in some cases timber sales are only 15 percent of what regulations allow.

"Good neighbor" authority in the 2014 farm bill is encouraging some added timber sales by promoting relationships with non federal partners, USFS ChiefTidwell said. But Perdue said he's not fully satisfied.

"These are not good statistics here," Perdue said. "These are crops. Those are crops there that ought to be harvested for the benefit of the American public."

"A breath of fresh air, Mr. Secretary," Jenkins said, in the committee meeting.

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