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Commentary: Putting the “A Team” Together

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“I love it when a plan comes together” was the line George Peppard uttered each week, usually with a cigar clenched in his teeth.  The A-Team is an American, action-adventure, television series that ran on NBC from 1983 to 1987 about former members of a fictitious United States Army Special Forces unit. The members, after being court-martialed “for a crime they didn’t commit,” escaped from military prison and, while still on the run, worked as soldiers of fortune. Each week the team got involved in more and more outrageous situations and came up with more and more outrageous solutions to win the day. Explosions, car chases, gunfights, and unique and inventive contraptions and disguises were regular features of the series.  Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is putting together his own “A Team,” although minus the explosions, car chases, and gun fights.

You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the ag community with each passing announcement of top officials at USDA and USTR. Given the Trump trade tirades of the campaign and the slowness with which the agricultural secretary was named, there was a good deal of apprehension by many in agriculture about the direction this new administration was to take when it came to agriculture and specifically agricultural trade. That apprehension has turned to enthusiasm in the past few weeks.

The reorganization of the USDA bureaucracy announced by Secretary Perdue shortly after he took office was at first seen as a weakening of trade, rural development, and other key sectors of the agency. Yet, it is now becoming clear that just the opposite is true.  The reshuffling of the cards, so to speak, will allow for some much needed house cleaning and cost cutting. Take, for example, the newly created position of Undersecretary of Trade and Foreign Affairs. Trade is one of the biggest factors that will drive the continued growth and prosperity of U.S. agriculture in the coming years. Putting control of this area at the Undersecretary level will allow for greater emphasis and coordination of farm trade policy. Putting someone like Ted McKinney in this position makes it even more effective.

As those of us in Indiana know, Ted is a consensus builder who has the ability to bring diverse options together around a common goal. He is also an effective communicator and advocate for agriculture. While Mr. McKinney will face some significant challenges in reshaping his area of USDA, he will also have the chance to strike out in a new direction and to take some new and innovative approaches to gaining market access for U.S. farmers.

In The A-Team TV series, fans always looked forward to the part of the show when B A Baracus, played by Mr. T, would light up the welding torch and go to work creating some crazy weapon that would be used to implement their crazy scheme.  While the team at USDA will not use a torch, a bold and innovative approach to trade will be needed to craft a policy that will provide market opportunities for U.S. farmers while keeping it fair and balanced.

Perhaps in the not too distant future when we have a new NAFTA agreement and bilateral trade deals with major agricultural customers, Secretary Perdue can light up a cigar, smile, and say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

By Gary Truitt