FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux visited with KMON about his trip to MT
Zach Ducheneaux is the administrator for United States Farm Service Agency as well as a rancher on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. He talked to KMON during the National Association of Farm Broadcasters Convention in November. Here is the transcript of the interview. The audio version can be heard at the end of the article.
Randy: Now, you just got back from Montana. You had a chance to turn the Hi-line up there and look at the Co-op meat packing plant. Talk about that.
Zach Ducheneaux: That was really a hearting experience. To see producers coming together, taking advantage of the resources that we're offering in our Impact program to leverage local money, leverage producer money, leverage other connections to establish what I think is going to be the beginning of the solution. They're talking about doing 12 to 15 head a day once they open up. That gives producers a choice, and it lets our producers get in a conversation with consumers because there's too much apparatus between the producer and the consumer on a large scale. So not a lot of conversations happen. But with a project like what's going on in Montana, the consumer can say, hey, I think I want this, and the producer can make it happen and get it to them for the value that it's worth. So little of the food dollar typically gets back to the farm gate, and this is an opportunity to get more of it back to the farm gate, but as importantly, keep the value-added dollar in that community. Havre needs more businesses. So, this is one of them that they need. And think about it in terms of an ecosystem. There are some keystone businesses that we need out there. We need a butcher shop, we need the local grocery store, we need the local drugstore. And if we don't take the steps through federal investment, these things aren't going to happen. And we're really excited that this is one of 22 projects totaling $75 million, leveraging another $400 million. That's a really significant leverage point and a really great return on the taxpayer investment.
Randy: Senator Jon Tester was a big part of this push, certainly helping out with the co-op. There are some other investments in Montana between COVID and then, most recently, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Food security is that “big term” now that we're all becoming familiar with. Touch on that.
Zach Ducheneaux: Well, you could swap out food security with national security, because if we can't feed ourselves, we're not going to be able to take the lead in promoting freedom and democracy across the world or even here at home. And we saw the fragility in COVID of our food system. I don't know it for a fact, but I would bet that there were stores in Havre that didn't have meat on their shelf. People are going to have a choice now to go to this meat processing plant and get with a producer and buy some meat. I know at home on Cheyenne River, the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, we grow 45,000 head of top quality livestock a year, and our grocery stores didn't have any meat on the shelf. So there's some inherent weaknesses in our food system. The food security and national security go hand in hand. And what I like people to try to think about is imagine if this was a war between Brazil and Argentina. Brazil controls 40% of our meat processing industry, and imagine what sanctions would look like there or inflation there. They could cripple the country. But to me, that's why we've got to start to stand up these local solutions that could grow and multiply. They've got a great vision there at that facility. They've got a portable kill unit that they're going to use to start the next version of this in the next community. They got 50 producers enlisted already all across Montana, and it's not a significant buy in to have access to the slots in that process.
Randy: Everything you said is common sense, but when you involve politics, common sense goes out the window. What do we need to do at the national level to knock it off with the politics and get back to taking care of our country?
Zach Ducheneaux: Listen to our producers, and it's something that (Ag) Secretary Vilsack charged us with early and tells us often, get out there and listen to your stakeholders and then come back and see if you can build the policy to fit the general need out there. Understand that there's going to be exceptions that we can't reach. But really, as a political appointee and as a federal official, my job is to help ensure the thoughtful stewardship of taxpayer resources to the need as dictated by the Congress. That's my role. And if I can find a way as an administrator to enhance that or improve that, taking producer feedback like we did in North Dakota when we had the drought tours a couple of years ago, that's the job. And if we do that, and if we continue to promote what we're doing as part of a solution and do it efficiently, but more importantly, do it effectively because they don't always go hand in hand, then we're going to start to rebuild the confidence in the federal government that's seriously lacking right now. And if we see our old is promoting democracy out there in our own countryside and promoting the benefit of diverse voices, then we're really getting out of it. And I think that's the key.
Randy: Anything you want to say that I didn't ask you?
Zach Ducheneaux: I would like to encourage all of our producers to not only participate in their opportunity to be part of this policy delivery system on their county committee, but also be part of the policy shaping by filling out your NAS census form next week (mailed out 11-22-22) when we get it. Those are very critical, and if we don't have the right information, we've got to make our best guess. Our best opportunity to make effective and thoughtful Ag policies is having the right information about what actually is going on. I can't be on every farm or ranch as much as I'd like to, so I give out my number to producers and encourage them to use it. It's 202-941-4675 and I answer those phone calls myself. You're welcome to call. If you don't get me and the voicemail is full, text me your information and I will get back to you.
Here is the full audio version of the interview: