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Secretary Perdue talks water, tariffs during Valley visit
Secretary Perdue
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (right) visited Modesto Tuesday morning for a town hall with Rep. Jeff Denham and local farmers.

As costly tariffs impact local growers and the state’s water wars wage on, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue heard the fears of San Joaquin Valley farmers firsthand on Tuesday during a town hall event with Rep. Jeff Denham.

Farmers and other ag stakeholders packed into a Modesto barn to throw their questions at the Secretary, wondering what can be done federally to keep the state water board from allowing more river water to flow to the ocean and inquiring about President Donald Trump’s tariffs policy.

“Most Americans — me included — do not fully appreciate and understand the contributions to the United States agriculture that California growers play,” Perdue said. “There’s only one way you can do that. You’ve got to get your boots on the ground here and see it, feel it and sit and talk to people.”

Farmers wasted no time talking about some of the issues on their mind. Todd Sanders, of the California Apple Commission and California Blueberry Commission, asked the Secretary to elaborate on the tariffs and any relief that apple farmers, who will be “hammered” by the new dues he said, may be able to receive.

Perdue admitted he warned President Trump that farmers would “bear the brunt” of any trade retaliation from China, but supported the president’s decision to try and make the international trade market fairer for the country. He compared the U.S. to “Boy Scouts” who are continuously walked on by other countries and reiterated that the president was committed to providing relief by way of a $12 billion buyout for farmers suffering because of retaliatory tariffs. 

Most Americans — me included — do not fully appreciate and understand the contributions to the United States agriculture that California growers play.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue

“We know there’s going to be some discomfort and some disruptions…some economic damage there for a while, but we’re not going to allow farmers to go through that,” Perdue said.

Perdue also said that he told President Trump farmers are “patriots,” but understandably nervous about tariffs.

“I am convinced these tariff things are problematic, they’re trouble, but we have tariffs because if we turn loose the American farmer, rancher, producer, we would own the market worldwide,” Perdue said. “I told the president that [farmers] know that you’re doing the right thing with China not having to play fair, but they’re obviously anxious. They’re patriots, Mr. President, but the bank won’t accept that patriotism when it comes to paying the note.”

In regards to the State Water Resources Control Board’s proposed plan to release 40 percent unimpaired flows from local rivers in order to benefit native fish species, which will be voted on next week, Perdue said that there is no immediate plan in place for federal intervention. He has, however, met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the issue, who also visited the Valley last month to talk water.

As a former Georgia governor, Perdue is no stranger to water struggles, he said. Even with the state’s 52 inches of rain per year, Georgia has been locked in a 30-year battle with Alabama and Florida over water allocation during times of drought.

“It’s the same story there, and we’ve got the environmentalists there saying we’ve got to make sure there’s enough for the mussels,” Perdue said. “If you take the water away, all you’re ever going to have is dirt and no food.

“I wish I could snap a finger and make this issue go away…this unimpeded flow thing just does not make any sense to me.”