Stormy weather stranded Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Atlanta the night before the Nebraska State Fair opened last month.

As such, the ag secretary was forced to cancel his appearance at an Aug. 23 town hall discussion to be moderated by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green.

Perdue also nixed a roundtable discussion with Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Deb Fischer after his flight from Atlanta to Omaha was delayed the Thursday night before both events.

But had the secretary been able to fly to Nebraska, he would have been asked to weigh in on the state of American agriculture, expanding access to international markets, immigration and more, according to emails released to the Journal Star through a public records request.

On Tuesday, Aug. 20, Meghan Rodgers, a deputy communications director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sent an email to Mike Zeleny, the chancellor's chief of staff, to set up the town hall discussion.

"I wanted to reach out to see if you had those topics we discussed sorted out with the Chancellor -- I want to be sure to include them in the Secretary's briefing documents," Rodgers wrote.

"Like I said last week -- the topics can really cover anything the Chancellor wants to talk about -- from the farm economy, trade, Secretary Perdue's travels and work as Secretary, this years' prevent plant (sic) and disasters, etc.," she added.

Zeleny responded the next day with five open-ended questions Green would have asked Perdue at the event, which was advertised to Nebraska farmers and State Fair attendees.

The questions below have been edited for brevity:

* How are you feeling about the position of American agriculture in today's world economy?

Register for more free articles
Stay logged in to skip the surveys

* What are we doing in terms of expanded access to those international markets for fair and successful trade of American agricultural products?

* What advice do you have from the federal perspective about recovery and future opportunities?

* As you know, agriculture is one of the industries in our economy which requires a high level of skilled workers, often with high levels of immigrant professionals. How do we resolve this dilemma in terms of immigration policy?

* Can you talk a little about the breadth and depth of USDA across all of its mission areas in 2019?

If time allowed, the chancellor could have posed three additional questions.

The first would have solicited Perdue's thoughts on the amount of funding available for agricultural research in the U.S. compared to China and Brazil.

The second asked Perdue to weigh in on USDA's decision to move two of its agencies -- the National Institute of Food and Agriculture as well as the Economic Research Service -- to Kansas City from Washington, which has drawn threats of mass resignations from the agency's employees.

Two Nebraska proposals to land those agencies, one at UNL and a private development in Omaha, advanced to the second round of consideration but ultimately were not among the finalists.

UNL and four other universities wrote letters of support to the USDA for the move, however.

Finally, in light of UNL and the State Fair's 150th anniversaries, Green would have asked Perdue for advice as both the university and the fair prepare for the next quarter century.

UNL said it is still interested in hosting Perdue for a town hall event, but nothing is scheduled at this time.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Load comments