Ryan, Perdue talk agriculture with Blain's Farm and Fleet representatives
JANESVILLE—Blain's Farm and Fleet store managers and agriculture officials got to bend the ears of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Thursday at Blain Supply in Janesville.
The event was part of Perdue's "Back to Our Roots" tour, a five-state RV journey across the Upper Midwest. Perdue is meeting with farmers and other agriculture industry leaders to gather input on the upcoming 2018 farm bill.
On a stage decorated with bags of oats and horse feed, Blain's Farm and Fleet President Jane Blain Gilbertson opened the meeting by detailing the company's 62-year history.
The company's core customers are “rural traditionalists” who are farmers or have some connection to agriculture, making them a great source of feedback for Perdue's tour, she said.
Ryan championed the state's connection to farming as he introduced Perdue.
“We are America's Dairyland,” Ryan said. “Don't listen to California.”
Perdue said he wants fewer regulations that impede farming. During a press conference after meeting with Blain managers, Perdue expanded on that when asked about water quality issues plaguing parts of Wisconsin.
“If you look at the trends, they're very encouraging. Our water runoff protection is much better than what it was even four years ago,” Perdue said. “Farmers are using more precision agriculture, less inputs. … We're doing more testing there.”
Perdue also addressed low commodity prices for corn and soybeans. Farmers were “in a bind,” but the insurance payments in the 2014 farm bill were working, he said.
Selling American crops around the world is still the top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
“We're going everywhere, knocking on doors where we can trade and sell this bountiful harvest and bountiful production U.S. producers do better than anywhere in the world,” Perdue said. “Think about how blessed we are as Americans, where we don't have to depend on people importing food to feed our families.”
Perdue, Ryan and Blain Gilbertson held a private question-and-answer session with store managers during the middle of the event. It was not open to the press.
During the press conference afterward, reporters peppered Ryan with a handful of questions unrelated to agriculture.
Ryan called the Taiwanese tech company's announcement to build a manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin a “game-changer” that would bring a new manufacturing sector to the state economy.
On Trump administration changes:
Within the past week, President Donald Trump replaced Chief of Staff Reince Priebus with former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. Shortly after Kelly started work, he fired Trump's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.
Ryan said Trump was still “working out the kinks” to make his administration more efficient. Ryan said he was proud of what Priebus did but said he was also a fan of Kelly, who would bring discipline to the White House.
On Russia sanctions:
Ryan was pleased with a bipartisan effort to sanction Russia after evidence that it meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The country “deserved” sanctions and needed to stop its involvement in future U.S. elections, he said.