Vilsack confirmed as agriculture secretary

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Vilsack speaks
U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking in Columbus, in 2016.

*Updated 2/24

The U.S. Senate approved Tom Vilsack for another round as the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture by a 92-7 vote, Feb. 23. 

In the session where Vilsack’s nomination was approved, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), chairwoman of the Senate agriculture committee, referenced Vilsack’s previous eight years as the secretary of agriculture under the Obama Administration.

“He has a proven track record,” she said.

Response

Multiple food and agriculture groups responded to the confirmation Feb. 23.

The American Farm Bureau Federation said it looks forward to working with Vilsack on issues including CARES Act programs, trade, climate, broadband and the next farm bill.

“We have a lot of work to do as we overcome obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said farm bureau president Zippy Duvall.

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said the group wants to see Vilsack prioritize pandemic recovery, in addition to addressing climate, corporate power, oversupply, institutional racism, aging populations and lacking local processing infrastructure.

“During his second stint as secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack can’t let any of these issues fall by the wayside,” Larew said.

The North American Meat Institute, National Corn Growers Association, American Forest Foundation and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also congratulated Vilsack.  

“Corn growers appreciated his comments in support of biofuels, along with the positive role he sees agriculture playing in addressing climate change, during his confirmation hearing,” said John Linder, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

Joel Berg, chief executive officer for Hunger Free America, an anti-hunger nonprofit, expressed confidence in Vilsack’s commitment to addressing food insecurity in a Feb. 23 statement.

The National Young Farmers Coalition congratulated Vilsack Feb. 23 and invited him to a roundtable discussion to hear from young farmers across the country about challenges they face and the structural changes that could help them.

“As much as two-thirds of all farmland and ranchland is likely to transition ownership in the coming decades, and without concerted governmental effort … this transition will not be equitable,” said Sophie Ackoff, co-executive director for the coalition.

Committee hearing

This confirmation comes several weeks after the Senate agriculture committee approved Vilsack’s nomination Feb. 2. Nearly 130 agricultural groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Association and Ohio Pork Council, urged the committee to confirm Vilsack in a Jan. 20 letter.

The letter said the organizations believe he is ready to handle challenges around the environment, food security, diversity and inclusion and rural economies.

In the Feb. 2 hearing, Vilsack seemed to have bipartisan support, with little to no serious criticism from Republican committee members, the Associated Press reported. The committee approved him unanimously. 

Some, including representatives from the National Black Farmers Association, have criticized Vilsack for not doing enough to address discrimination in his previous years as the agriculture secretary. In the Feb. 2 hearing, Vilsack promoted the idea of climate-friendly agriculture industries, like biofuels, and working on food insecurity through programs like SNAP, as well as looking into racial inequity at the USDA.

*Updated to include comments from the National Young Farmers Coalition.

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