Thank you very much for that kind introduction. I'm thrilled to be with you -- and I hope that today represents the beginning of an ongoing conversation between the agricultural community and the Department of Transportation.
I know that, historically, the Department of Agriculture has been your gateway to the federal government -- and that's not going to change. But this Administration -- from President Obama and Vice President Biden on down -- believes that good things happen when more voices are a part of the public policy dialogue.
It's very important to us at DOT that we open our doors and our ears to you -- not just because agriculture is the single largest user of freight transportation in the United States, but also because it's the right way for government to operate.
For my part, I have some personal familiarity with your challenges and opportunities. I still call Peoria, Illinois, home -- and I've served our vibrant agricultural community for three decades.
During my years in Congress, I worked closely with ACTIVATOR, the Illinois Farm Bureau's political involvement fund. We also organized an agricultural advisory committee to make sure we were best serving the farmers in our district. And I was deeply honored to be named a "Friend of the Farm Bureau" for six consecutive sessions of Congress -- and to accept the AFBF's Distinguished Service Award in 2009.
I appreciate what you're all about -- and I understand how burdensome regulations can be if government isn't thoughtful about how they're put in place.
In recent weeks, we've heard your concerns about several truck safety issues and their potential consequences for farmers.
Let me be perfectly clear: Safety is our number one priority at the Department of Transportation. Nothing else comes close. It's the first thing I think about in the morning -- and the thing that keeps me awake at night.
Still, if the way we pursue our safety-first mission doesn't make sense, then we should be open to the possibility of changing course. That's why we've asked for your comments -- and now extended the window in which you can provide input through August 1.
I'm hoping the interest in transportation that this proposal has ginned up can actually serve as a reset opportunity -- a chance for us to talk more regularly, to work more closely together, and to build a stronger partnership going forward.
President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Vilsack -- everyone in this administration is committed to helping you flourish. We've seen the agricultural economy improve -- as prices of corn and beans reach record highs. We're pursuing trade agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea that will make it easier for farmers to sell their products across borders and overseas.
Just last week, I signed a similar agreement with Mexico's Secretary of Transportation to begin a cross-border, long-haul, trucking pilot program. It will pave the way for Mexico to suspend 50 percent of tariffs that were hurting many of your farmers.
The bottom line is that you have an ally -- not an adversary -- in this administration. That doesn't mean we'll agree on every single issue. But I assure you that we'll pay attention to your needs and do our absolute best to help. And here's what we ask for in return: Your active participation in the conversation.
If you feel that the rules we make -- or the ways we communicate those rules -- are harmful to you, make your voice heard. I promise we'll listen. And I look forward to making good on that promise starting right now.