WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture in his administration. An official announcement was said to be imminent.
Vilsack was secretary of agriculture for all eight years of President Barack Obama’s administration. After leaving the US Department of Agriculture in January 2017, Vilsack accepted the position as president and chief executive officer of the US Dairy Export Council.
Vilsack directed the USDA through a period of severe global economic crisis and then recovery, and it was expected that experience may stand him in good stead in assuming the helm of the US Department of Agriculture in 2021.
During his previous tenure as secretary of agriculture, Vilsack oversaw expansion of nutrition programs during the great recession, implemented farm and land conservation programs with increased emphasis on the farm sector’s role in addressing climate change, and implemented new nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs.
Earlier, Vilsack served two terms of governor of Iowa.
Vilsack campaigned for Mr. Biden this year and has been an adviser to the president-elect on rural and agricultural affairs.
There had been competition for the secretary of agriculture post. Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a long-standing member of the House Committee of Agriculture, was championed for the top job at USDA by many progressives seeking a more racially diverse department that would be more strongly focused on food, nutrition and climate changes issues. Fudge instead was nominated by president-elect Biden to be secretary of health and human services. And former Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was supported by several farm organizations.
But Vilsack was a known quantity to farm and food industry associations, and they welcomed his nomination.
Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the American Bakers Association, said, “As we enter a new phase of the ongoing pandemic, it is critical for the agencies that support America’s food supply chain to transition smoothly. We look forward to working closely with Secretary Vilsack upon his return to the USDA as our members continue feeding the country a safe, steady supply of baked goods. Importantly, under his leadership, we are confident the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will provide reliable and consistent support to the many families in need of its critical services.
“Secretary Vilsack’s history of service to America’s agriculture sector spans decades, and we congratulate him on his nomination to the USDA. His open mind and his solid, proven experience would thoughtfully guide the agricultural sector through this public health emergency.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), said, “The AFBF welcomes the news that Tom Vilsack will be nominated to be secretary of agriculture. His leadership as the 30th secretary of agriculture and as governor of a state reliant on agriculture is evidence of his qualification to serve in this role.
“Tom Vilsack understands that the agriculture sector is far more complex than most people understand. He believes in a ‘big tent’ philosophy that supports all types of production and understands the importance of respecting farmers and ranchers as partners worthy of support in the race to achieve sustainability goals.
“Tom and I built a good relationship during his first term as ag secretary, and we’ve built on that relationship in his current role with the US Dairy Export Council. I look forward to sitting down with him again to continue our conversation on how to address the opportunities and challenges facing agriculture and rural communities. The pandemic revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of our food system, which Tom has had a front row seat to witness.
“Tom Vilsack earned a reputation for rising above partisanship to serve farmers and ranchers, and I’m confident he’ll continue to do so.”
Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, said, “Between pandemic recovery, the imminent threat of climate change, rampant corporate power, and chronic overproduction, family farmers and ranchers have significant challenges ahead of them in the next several years — and they need a strong secretary of agriculture behind them to make it through in one piece. After eight years leading USDA, Tom Vilsack has the necessary qualifications and experience to steer the agency through these turbulent times.”
Larew urged Vilsack, should he be confirmed, to “expand nutrition assistance programs in order to ensure that millions of individuals who are facing unemployment and food insecurity are able to meet their most basic needs through the pandemic.”
Read more about personnel changes throughout the industry.