My husband Bruce and I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to our family ranch just south of Valentine. It was a snowy May day in the Nebraska Sandhills, but Secretary Perdue felt right at home. The secretary joined with me in hosting a roundtable discussion with more than 60 of our friends and neighbors. We had a wide-ranging conversation about the challenges facing ranchers in Nebraska and across our country.

During our discussion, Secretary Perdue highlighted recent news regarding new beef export opportunities to China. He believes the agreement will better enable American ranchers to sell our world-class beef to a growing market. As the secretary explained, the Chinese middle class wants more protein in their diets. Like me, he’s convinced that when they get a taste of American beef they're going to want more of it.

I know Nebraska ranchers stand ready to capitalize on this great opportunity.

Ag producers feed the world and their hard work benefits the economy. Right now, foreign sales make up nearly a third of agriculture income in the United States. Strong production agriculture and the revenue generated from the 48,700 farms and ranches in our state help everyone’s bottom line. For example, food and livestock processing has added nearly 20,000 jobs in metropolitan Omaha alone. These jobs bring a diversity of expertise to Nebraska, from technology and engineering to irrigation and food processing. Finding new trade partners will make the lives of all Nebraskans better.

Secretary Perdue also made clear that he understands the role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and how his department should function. Our job is to produce the food, he told the crowd, and his goal is to sell it to the world. That’s what I like to hear coming out of the USDA.

The secretary has been a strong advocate for trade, and we saw firsthand how committed he is to supporting exports. He knows that opening markets will expand opportunities that will help Nebraska families and our country as a whole.

We need smarter agriculture policy, as well, and I was encouraged when the secretary showed his understanding of how red tape hurts ranchers and farmers. He knows how federal regulations can often be obstacles for our local economies. I look forward to continuing my work with the USDA to lift regulatory burdens and provide certainty so Nebraska ranchers can prosper and continue to feed the world.

I was also grateful we had the opportunity to discuss how important infrastructure is for economic development in rural areas. When our roundtable began, I asked everyone in the room to see if they had service on their cellphones. Nobody did. Our ranchers, farmers and rural citizens must have the ability to communicate with the outside world. Technology is becoming an increasingly critical tool in how we do business. Connectivity is also key to keeping younger generations of entrepreneurs in our communities. Showing Secretary Perdue this problem made a strong, personal impression. I look forward to working with him to encourage better telecommunications and broadband infrastructure so that our ag producers have the tools they need in a changing world.

Giving producers more stability in public policy while also promoting trade agreements will strengthen our economy, produce more jobs and raise our standard of living. I’m pleased that Secretary Perdue is committed to listening, acting and standing up for rural America. After our candid discussion this past weekend, I know working with him to create more opportunities for Nebraska families is a good thing to do.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer can be reached at 202-224-6551.