Speaking to a crowd of students, faculty and community patrons in McCain Auditorium, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue challenged the crowd to “leave it better than they found it” as part of the 179th Landon Lecture on Thursday morning.
After K-State President Richard Myers introduced Perdue, the secretary began by discussing the idea of open dialogue he believes the founding fathers built the United States on. He is proud to be one of a variety of speakers in the lecture series, he said.
“You can’t really gain a full and well-rounded education without exposure to different points of view and different ideas,” Perdue said. “The open exchange of ideas has been sort of the bedrock of western civilization for many years now and I think it’s built in the very foundation of America, and I don’t want to see that go away.”
Perdue then stated the lessons he learned as a child on a farm, lessons he said shape how he approaches public service and policy. The first was responsibility and stewardship.
“That’s important for all of us because we’re part of a family, a national family, a global family looking out for one another,” Perdue said. “We share a sense of accountability for one another.”
On the farm, Perdue said he did chores for years just because his father told him to. However, when he was a teenager, his father told him words that influenced the rest of his life.
“‘You need to understand this right now,’” Perdue said. “‘We’re all stewards, we’re going to leave this life all the same way and whether we own it, or whether we rent it, we’re going to leave it better than we found it.”
Next, Perdue described trust and faith in the context of the Declaration of Independence, specifically the phrase “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence.”
“The Founding Fathers lived out those words every planting season,” Perdue said. “They put seed in the ground and had faith that it would grow.”
Perdue then discussed the persistence he believes a farmer must have.
“Kansas knows the devastation of draught,” Perdue said. “It’s insidious, it’s devastating and it’s demoralizing, but farmers are resilient, they must bounce back when hard times hit. They must must persist, and persistence proves the authenticity of trust, faith in that firm reliance.”
Last, Perdue said farmers have to be optimistic.
“Persistence is rooted in faith, and covered in the topsoil of optimism,” Perdue said. “When a farmer plants a seed, the farmer has faith that it will grow, but there’s also an expectation that it will grow. That’s optimism.”
Perdue concluded his speech with his vision for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I want to see the USDA as the most customer-focused agency in the federal government,” Perdue said.
When a friend passed away when he was a child, Perdue said he was left with a sense of urgency that stuck with him the rest of his life.
“Folks, life comes to us one moment at a time, none of us is promised tomorrow, or even the next minute for that matter,” Perdue said. “As your secretary of agriculture, once again, I want the USDA to be the most efficient, the most effective, the most customer-focused department in the federal government. I truly want to leave it better than I found it, and I always want to do right and feed everyone.”
After the lecture, Perdue answered audience questions. One question involved President Donald Trump’s recently imposed tariffs.
“China needs to play the rules,” Perdue said. “Farmers are honest people. We want people to be compliant and play by the rules. So, when China decides it wants to play by the international rules, fairness and free trade, we want to trade with them anytime. I think President Trump’s policies are getting that message across.”
During the later media session, Perdue said he believes a farm bill will be passed by the end of the current session.
“I think once the elections are over, people will come back to the hard work of getting it done,” Perdue said. “I expect a farm bill by the end of the year.”