Yellowhammer News: USDA Sec Perdue visits Wiregrass to survey Hurricane Michael damage, Praises Martha Roby for her participation
GORDON – On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue stopped in Alabama to survey the agricultural impact resulting from damage due to Hurricane Michael last month.
Perdue’s appearance at Mule Shoe Plantation near Alabama’s borders with Florida and Georgia in Southeast Houston County was the second of three that day, which also included stops in Bristol, Fla. and Donaldsonville, Ga.
Perdue was accompanied by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) and Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner John McMillan, who will soon assume the role of Alabama State Treasurer. They all participated in a roundtable discussion with farmers from Houston and Henry Counties to discuss emergency hurricane relief, how to efficiently deal with the federal bureaucracy and other issues, including crop insurance and trade policy.
Perdue praised Roby for her participation in his visit to Alabama, noting that of the three stops in three different states, the Montgomery Republican was the only one that came to meet with him.
“This is the way representative democracy works,” Perdue said. “The election is over, but Martha Roby is here. I’m not saying anything about anybody. I’m going to be in three states today, and this is the only member of the House that I’m meeting with.”
He also suggested Alabama was poised for the federal response, given Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Tuscaloosa) position in the U.S. Senate.
“I want to tell you something: There’s business going on up there – but this is the way representative democracy works. There’s a senior senator here that’s in really good position to help as well and make sure we get what we need in the supplemental.”
Following the roundtable, Perdue, Roby and McMillan took questions from reporters. Perdue reflected on what he had learned in his discussion and noted that the aftermath of Hurricane Michael made for some extenuating circumstances with regards to disaster relief for agricultural interests.
“The common safety net programs that the members of the Congress pass in farm bills are not enough in these kinds of devastating circumstances,” Perdue said. “We come to see what kind of exemptions and exclusions we can put out there that don’t apply in the normal course of business. We look at impediments – what are the frustrations in dealing with government and farm service agency and USDA. What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What do we need to do more of? What do we need to do less of?”
“The best way to do that is talk to producers and growers, here,” he added. “We have got an unusual situation in the South in the corner between Alabama, Georgia and Florida – a lot of pine tree damage. That’s not a typical crop that’s damaged in this sort of way, nor pecan trees. There are a lot in southwest Georgia, and these will require some different circumstances there because that might have been a landowner’s retirement. A lot of landowners plant those trees 25, 30, 40 years ago hoping to harvest them in their retirement. And it’s gone, just like your 401(k) being stolen from a bank.”
Both Perdue and Roby told Yellowhammer News they did not anticipate last week’s midterm election results that will give Democrats apparent control of the U.S. House of Representatives to impact any disaster relief response.
“I think that’s the great thing about America,” Perdue said. “It doesn’t affect anything. Congresswoman Roby is still there. She is advocating for her constituents. Commissioner McMillian is. Irrespective of election outcomes, that’s the way we work in America, and that’s the good thing about succession government.”
Roby emphasized the response to come in the form of disaster relief supplemental legislation must not only come soon but “correctly” as well.
“A hurricane doesn’t discriminate on state lines or congressional districts,” Roby said. “My job is to work with all of my colleagues who have been impacted by this storm and other devastation around the country to make sure Congress is doing its job to put the money in place to make sure this disaster supplemental is there to help Americans.”
“And so, we’re going to make the push to get this done,” she added. “You heard the urgency in that room today. And so there is going to be a push to get this done as quickly as we can. But as the secretary said, we have to get it right. And so we’re going to continue to work with all the government agencies that are involved and my colleagues in Congress to make sure that we get this done quickly, but correctly.”
Recent estimates of Hurricane Michael’s toll on agriculture in Florida, Georgia and Alabama have exceeded $1 billion.