U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue received an earful during stops in Broomfield and Brighton Tuesday, and not of Olathe sweet corn.

Members of the Colorado Ag Council voiced their worries over burgeoning trade disputes that have depressed commodity prices and cost them sales, chronic labor shortages and unfilled vacancies at USDA offices in counties around the state.

Perdue, speaking at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, emphasized he was there to listen and carry concerns back to President Donald Trump and his administration.

“He is a bottom-line kind of guy and he wants straight talk,” Perdue said. “Good, bad or ugly, he wants to know the deal.”

The most pressing issue involved trade talks with China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and fears that U.S. farmers would have the most to lose if they go badly.

“What efforts are you doing to help stimulate and encourage the bilateral trade agreements,” asked Joyce Kelly, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council, raising one of several questions on trade policy.

After an initial salvo of new U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar arrays, washing machines and other products, China fired back with retaliatory measures against pork, sorghum and soybeans.

Perdue told his audience that the end game was to get other countries to close their trade deficits by buying more U.S. agricultural products. For example, the administration wants China to double its farm purchases, which could result in $25 billion to $50 billion more sales.

“He won’t accept a deal that doesn’t enhance U.S. agriculture,” Perdue emphasized.

When asked whether the federal government would step in and help farmers hurt in the interim, Perdue said a plan was in place, but didn’t provide details, saying American farmers would “rather have trade than aid.”

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