Nebraska native and former Nebraska director of agriculture Greg Ibach gave an inside perspective of the Trump administration and USDA agriculture and rural focal points, when he addressed participants at the 30th Governor's Ag Conference recently in Kearney as the new USDA Under Secretary for marketing and regulatory programs.
Ibach, who was state ag director from 2005 until he was appointed to his new position in 2017, is a native of Sumner. "I guess I'm still a farm kid from Sumner, so I think about the farms and farmers around my hometown and all across Nebraska," he said. "I think about this every day: How what we do in Washington impacts all of you back home."
From Ibach's vantage point, that impact can be significant. In his post, Ibach oversees operations at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Marketing Service, and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.
Ibach talked about his daily duties, which might include work on animal health and biotechnology regulations or figuring out the specifics of how U.S. beef goes into international markets. His department works on predator control with ranchers and marketing orders for specialty crops, along with grain inspections, the National Organic Standards, commodity checkoff programs and meat inspections, just to name a few responsibilities.
Last spring, President Donald Trump established the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which is a collaborative effort among 22 federal agencies, with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue at the lead.
Ibach told conference participants that there are major principles to guide the task force. Reliable and affordable rural access to broadband technology and electronic connectivity for rural America is at the top of the list, he said.
States, in partnership with federal agencies and private partners will work together to improve technology access, he said. Improving quality of life, increasing support for a rural workforce, harnessing technology and boosting economic development are additional principles guiding the task force's work.
Ibach said this partnership is an example of how the administration and secretary of agriculture are working to coordinate and collaborate between federal agencies to better serve rural citizens in a more effective and efficient way by working together and streamlining regulations.
"Certainly, the new farm bill is part of our discussions this year," Ibach said. He said one of the discussions in the next farm bill will be helping the livestock industry put in place a safety net to protect the industry from diseases like foot-and-mouth. Such a disease would cause catastrophic losses to U.S. farmers and ranchers, and their markets. Border security is part of that safety net, he said.
The next step is to develop a network of biocontainment laboratories like the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility being built in Manhattan, Kan., which can receive samples 24/7, not just for FMD, but for other diseases as well. This would increase efficiency in the study and detection of disease threats to livestock and is part of the biosecurity discussion, Ibach said.
Ibach is also concerned about delivery of soybeans that meet foreign material criteria for shipment to China. China has expressed concern that U.S. soybean shipments have not been meeting their criteria of less than 1% FM, while soybeans from other countries do. USDA is looking at the entire grain marketing system to determine how best to continue an uninterrupted flow of U.S. soybeans to China to meet those standards.
"China is a big market, so we are taking this very seriously, and I am confident that we will meet the challenge," he said.