* This story is developing. Check back for updates.
** Updated Dec. 11
Tom Vilsack, who served as agriculture secretary for eight years during the Obama Administration, will be nominated to return during President-elect Joe Biden’s upcoming administration, the Associated Press and several other media outlets reported Dec. 8.
Biden and his transition team confirmed that Vilsack would be his pick in a Dec. 10 announcement.
Prior to serving as secretary of agriculture from 2009 to 2017, Vilsack was the governor of Iowa. Since 2017, he has been the president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a non profit membership organization that represents the dairy industry’s global trade interests.
The National Farmers Union responded to the news Dec. 8, saying that the challenges farmers are facing with the pandemic, climate change and other issues mean agriculture will need a strong leader over the coming years.
“After eight years leading USDA, Tom Vilsack has the necessary qualifications and experience to steer the agency through these turbulent times,” said Rob Larew, the organization’s president. “However, the secretary’s obligation is not just to serve farmers; it’s also to serve the American public at large.”
Larew said many reforms that would help farmers, including ones that balance supply with demand, restore competition to agriculture markets, strengthen local food systems, advance racial equity and mitigate climate change, would also benefit the general public. But he also urged Vilsack to expand nutrition assistance programs to help American citizens meet their basic needs through the pandemic.
The American Farm Bureau Federation released a statement Dec. 9 saying that it welcomes Vilsack’s nomination and is ready to work with him. Farm bureau president Zippy Duvall said he and Vilsack built a good relationship during Vilsack’s first term as the secretary of agriculture and in his current role with the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
“Tom Vilsack earned a reputation for rising above partisanship to serve farmers and ranchers and I’m confident he’ll continue to do so,” Duvall said.
The National Milk Producers Federation said it will miss Vilsack as a dairy colleague, but believes he is well-suited for the job and looks forward to his leadership.
The National Grange welcomed Vilsack back in a Dec. 9 statement, saying his experience in politics, at the USDA and in private industry gives him a unique perspective to deal with current challenges for agriculture.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it looks forward to working with Vilsack.
“He has the unique skill set to be able to hit the ground running on day one and cattle producers are thankful for this continuity,” said Colin Woodall, CEO of the association.
Other groups, including the United Fresh Produce Association and the National Corn Growers Association, welcomed Vilsack back.
“Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that we have experienced leaders,” said Tom Stenzel, CEO of United Fresh Produce Association.
Early candidates for the secretary of agriculture position included former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge.
Fudge, who serves on the House Ag committee, was championed by some progressive groups and anti-hunger groups, more than 60 of which sent a letter recommending her nomination Nov. 23.
Instead, Biden announced Fudge as his nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Dec. 10.
Some believed Heitkamp was a strong contender in November, but some progressive groups argued that she was too closely aligned with corporate agribusiness interests. More than 160 environmental, sustainable agriculture, anti-hunger and other organizations sent a letter Nov. 17 asking Biden and his team to not consider Heitkamp for the role.
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