ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is looking for help at the USDA in Washington. After 14 months in office, the Trump Administration still has a lot of jobs to fill, including 4 of the top jobs in agriculture. Still vacant is the job of Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. That person is in charge of the U.S. Forest Service and about 40,000 employees across the country. Also still open is the Under Secretary Research, Education and Economics. That person is the USDA's top scientist who oversees a $700 million budget that hands out research grants to over 100 land grant universities like the UW-Madison. A third major position to fill is the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. That person handles a budget of about $100 billion, or about 71% of the total USDA budget, and oversees food assistance to over 78 million people. And the 4th major job to fill is the Under Secretary for Food Safety who is in charge of over 8,000 food inspectors at more than 6,400 processing and slaughter plants. So far only 4 of the 13 USDA jobs that require Senate approval have been confirmed with 4 more nominations waiting for confirmation.
But an important position at USDA was filled yesterday when the Senate, on a voice vote, approved the nomination of former Iowa Agriculture Commissioner, Bill Northey, to be the new Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services. That vote happened almost 6 months after Northey was nominated for the job by President Trump but couldn't be acted on because Texas Senator Ted Cruz put a hold on Northey's nomination because he didn't like what's been going on with renewable fuels. But yesterday, just before a White House meeting on the Renewable Fuels Standards, Cruz withdrew his hold. Nothing happened at that White House meeting yesterday to change any policies but President Trump now says he wants to meet with leaders of the Renewable Fuels industry tomorrow at the White House to get more information before he decides on any potential policy changes.
At the recent USDA Outlook Conference in Washington, USDA economists painted a less than rosy picture for farm income for this year. Their numbers say farm income will fall almost 7% this year, falling to 59 and a half billion dollars-less than half of what it was just 5 years ago. And they expect farm income to remain flat for the next 10 years. Their report also shows overall farm debt is going up-to more than $400 billion with real estate debt expected to be more than in 1981 when it hit a record $218 billion.
The Cooperatives Working Together program of the National Milk Producers' Federation is busy again this week. The program is helping member co-ops export over 1.7 million pounds of cheese and more than 1.76 million pounds of butter to customers in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. In the first 2 months of this year, the program has helped move over 18 and a half million pounds of cheese, and nearly 3 and a half million pounds of butter to buyers in 15 countries on 4 continents.