WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2017 - The Senate on Thursday confirmed a second new undersecretary for the Agriculture Department, Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, who will oversee the department’s marketing and regulatory programs.
Senate action has stalled on another nominee, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, who had been moving through the Senate in tandem with Ibach. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, placed a hold on Northey’s nomination to be undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services to push back on commitments that the Trump administration made last week to Iowa political leaders on biofuel issues.
Cruz' staff has not responded to requests for comment. But he and eight other senators sent a letter to President Trump Wednesday asking for a meeting to discuss a "mutually agreeable solution" on biofuel policy.
Ibach’s confirmation, which came on a voice vote, follows the earlier approval of Ted McKinney as the first undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural services.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Texas, told Agri-Pulse earlier Thursday that he had been unable to persuade Cruz to lift his hold and might have to go ahead with getting Ibach confirmed separately.
Roberts expressed frustration that Cruz was holding up Northey over an issue not related to the position he would hold at USDA. “I’ve talked to him (Cruz) twice and explained to him that Mr. Northey shouldn’t be a hostage here,” Roberts said.
Ibach would be responsible for the Agricultural Marketing Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration. GIPSA is being merged with AMS under a plan Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced last month.
Perdue said Ibach's "expertise in a wide cross-section of agricultural issues will be invaluable to our customers: the farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers of America."
Ibach told the Senate Agriculture Committee during his confirmation that it would be a “difficult task” to balance his competing responsibilities at USDA -- promoting agricultural production while also overseeing agencies that regulate various industry sectors. He pledged to listen to the "many diverse voices of agriculture" and promised support for developing local and regional food systems.