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Delaware farmers, congressional delegation discuss priorities with new U.S. Ag. Secretary

Some Delaware farmers would like to see revised regulations in the agriculture industry, and they’re hoping the new U.S. Agriculture Secretary will hear their comments and concerns.

After being confirmed in April, Sec. Sonny Perdue was invited by Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester to visit the First State.

He joined Delaware’s Congressional delegation at the Delaware State Fair in Harrington Monday, and spoke with several local farmers, conservationists, environmentalists and 4-H participants to learn about Delaware’s agriculture priorities.


“Agriculturalists are innovators. They’re stewards of the land, and they want to do better, they want to save tasty, wholesome, nutritious food supply for all of us because that’s what their families eat, and at USDA that’s what we want to help them do,” Perdue said.


Delaware Farm Bureau President Kitty Holtz said one thing she'd like to see from the new administration is revised farming regulations.


“There’s a lot of overlapping regulations that are out there, prohibiting farmers from being able to do their job effectively and it adds a burden of cost to when there’s too many regulations,” Holtz said.   


William O’Day, a Seaford-area farmer, said he'd also like to see some regulations rolled back.


O'Day, 79, has been farming all his life and grows corn, soybeans, wheat, and several other vegetables. He said now there’s a lot of paperwork involved in farming that he didn’t have to fill out decades ago, like paperwork dealing with nutrient management and manure.


“It affects the way you grow crops. You can only put on so much manure, you have to spray at certain times. There’s all kinds of regulations that slow you down,” O’Day said.


Delaware also plays a huge role in Delmarva’s $3.2 billion poultry industry, which contributes to the U.S.’s $38.7 billion poultry industry. Sec. Perdue complimented the industry nationally, saying “no one on this planet can compete with U.S. growers and producers when it comes to producing a high quality poultry product.”  


With a stake in the poultry industry, Delmarva poultry farmers have two main things they want Perdue to consider. James Fisher, a spokesman for Delmarva Poultry Industry, said growers and producers want the current administration to withdraw an interim rule that governs how farmers and poultry companies can sue each other.


“They’ve put on hold a rule that would really add a billion dollars in regulator costs to the poultry industry, opening the door to lawsuits from companies,” Fisher said.


Right now, this rule is set to be implemented in October.


Fisher said DPI also wants to see processing plants gradually increase the speeds at which they can process chicken, in order to compete with the poultry industry in other countries.


Currently, Delaware and the U.S. allow a maximum speed of 140 birds per minute, whereas many other countries allow 175 birds per minute to be processed.


“Evidence shows they continue to sort of reduce contamination by bacteria in the plants, they continue to make progress on that at these faster speeds without going backwards on workers’ safety,” Fisher said.


There are about 25 sites in the country that are testing this higher speed, and Sec. Perdue said those tests are going well so far.


“We want our decisions to be based on sound science, good data and best facts available to make policy decisions. I’m not smart enough to make those intuitively. We want to look at what works and try those things out to make sure that that is a process that ensures the safety of that product,” Perdue said.


Perdue comes from a farming family in Georgia, and is a former farmer, agribusinessman, and Georgia governor.


His experience in the industry are why both Carper and Coons said they supported President Trump’s nomination of Perdue as the ag. secretary.


“We are very fortunate to have a U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who is from the leading poultry state in America, who as former governor of Georgia, understands the chicken industry and understands the ways that raising soybeans and corn and chicken is essential to his home state economy and my home state economy,” Coons said.