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Biden Administration Chooses Obama Era Ag Secretary

President-Elect Joe Biden has announced that Tom Vilsack has been appointed as Agricultural Secretary, replacing Sonny Perdue. Vilsack is a familiar choice for this position because he served as Agricultural Secretary for eight years during the Obama administration. During his time as Ag Secretary, Vilsack oversaw investments in rural communities, secured vital improvements to the nation’s school meal system, and led a successful campaign to increase food safety standards. Vilsack served as the governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007 and currently serves as the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council since departing from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2017. 

The nomination of Vilsack has generated praise from many in the agricultural sector. Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau stated in a press release, “Tom Vilsack earned a reputation for rising above partisanship to serve farmers and ranchers and I’m confident he’ll continue to do so. The American Farm Bureau stands ready to support Tom and work closely with him knowing his success as Ag Secretary correlates directly with America’s farmers and ranchers, as well as our rural communities, having the support they need to flourish.” Similarly, John Linder, President of the National Corn Growers Association stated, “he’s been an outspoken advocate for rural America and we look forward to working together again, along with President-elect Biden, to build long-term demand for our product, mitigate the impact of climate change, seek new markets around the globe, and continue to feed and fuel the world.”

On the other hand, some do not agree that Vilsack is best suited for the position. “Vilsack is not good for the agriculture industry, period,” Michael Stovall, founder of Independent Black Farmers, a coalition of Black growers and producers from key Southern states working to raise awareness on issues faced by Black farmers, told Politico. “When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he's not for that. It's very disappointing they even want to consider him coming back after what he has done to limited-resource farmers and what he continues to do to destroy lives."

Vilsack is likely to be confirmed by the Senate since he was confirmed in 2009 by unanimous consent, but challenges are expected from the progressive side of the Democratic party. Ryan Bernstein, a senior policy advisor with McGuireWoods in Washington, DC, who represents food and agribusiness interest stated, “he will likely receive swift confirmation in the Senate but will face challenges from the more progressive wing of his party. Given his prior role at USDA and hailing from a traditional farm state like Iowa, look for Vilsack and the Administration to shift the Department’s goals and policy objectives to alleviate and address many of the concerns of progressives, including climate change, broadband access, renewable energy, and hunger.”