By Sean Ellis
SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The directors of 13 Western state departments of agriculture were joined by what they described as an unprecedented number of top officials from federal agencies during their annual conference.
They viewed that as a positive sign of the importance the Trump administration places on agriculture and working cooperatively with states.
The annual meeting of the Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture always attracts officials from government agencies such as USDA, said Celia Gould, director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, which hosted this year’s conference July 24-28.
“But this year we had an unusual number of federal partners who were able to join us from the highest levels of federal government,” she said. “This is the first time that we’ve had this level of engagement across the board, not just from USDA but also from EPA and FDA and APHIS.”
Gould said those officials didn’t just give a speech, field a few questions and leave, but spent in some cases a few days meeting individually with state ag directors.
“For me, the highlight of the conference was having those people willing to come to Idaho to sit down with us and hammer out issues, individually and collectively, and sit down with each director and talk with them and find out what our problems are,” Gould said.
The conference included Ken Wagner, senior adviser to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who told WASDA directors that serious conversations are taking place within the agency to ensure better communication and collaboration with states.
Kevin Shea, administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, fielded questions about an array of topics ranging from brucellosis to pest eradication. Before arriving at the conference, he spent time in East Idaho talking with potato farmers in their fields.
Officials from federal agencies provided WASDA members with agency updates about important issues such as the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act and USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program.
Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, viewed the participation of so many high-level federal officials as a positive sign from the new presidential administration about its intention to work closely with states as partners.
She was particularly impressed with Wagner’s attendance.
WASDA has always enjoyed a good relationship with federal partners, she said.
“But to meet with the senior policy adviser from EPA this early in an administration that has so few appointments done is very meaningful,” Ross said. “I think it’s meant a lot to everyone that this early in the administration we’re getting folks like him to meet with us.”
The event included a presentation by Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s minister of agriculture, who spoke about the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and how important it is to agriculture.
Jeff Witte, director-secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, said the annual event “always give us the opportunity to share with each other what’s going on in our respective states and get caught up on all the issues but this year’s conference has been extra special because of the high-level participation we had.”