The nation’s food and agriculture groups are glad to have a familiar face back at the helm of the Department of Agriculture.
Tom Vilsack was confirmed to once again be the Secretary of Agriculture in a sweeping bipartisan vote Tuesday, setting the former Iowa governor up for another stint in one of the most important seats in American agriculture.
Six Republican senators voted against his nomination — Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Rand Paul of Kentucky; only one member who caucuses with the Democrats — Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders — voted in opposition. Sanders later told The Washington Post he wanted someone “a little bit more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking on corporate agriculture.”
Indeed, some progressive farm and environmental groups have raised questions about Vilsack, citing his tenure with the Obama administration as reason for their concern. But the vast majority of rural stakeholders say they are glad to see him back in office.
Here’s a roundup of a few thoughts from some of the key players in farm policy:
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall: “AFBF congratulates Tom Vilsack on his confirmation as the next Secretary of Agriculture. His strong track record of leadership and previous experience at USDA will serve rural America well. Secretary Vilsack and I have spoken several times in recent weeks about opportunities and challenges facing America’s farmers and ranchers, and I look forward to close collaboration.”
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew: “No one is more qualified to lead the USDA than Tom Vilsack. After serving as Secretary of Agriculture for eight years, he knows the agency inside and out, giving him the insight he needs to get to work right away on behalf of family farmers, rural communities, and hungry Americans.”
Farm Credit Council President and CEO Todd Van Hoose: “Farm Credit congratulates Secretary Vilsack on his confirmation as USDA Secretary. His depth and breadth of knowledge about the issues facing agriculture are unparalleled. We look forward to working with him to combat the challenges of climate change, address issues of diversity in agriculture and find opportunities for the farmers and ranchers that feed this country and the world to succeed.”
American Soybean Association President Kevin Scott: “We appreciate that Secretary Vilsack always supported farmers and understood that they are a driving force for the rural economy. We are confident that he will continue to support producers and appreciate his ongoing commitment to seeking farmer input.”
American Feed Industry Association President and CEO Constance Cullman: “As our international counterparts and organizations convene to develop strategies to reduce food insecurity and environmental impact, we will support Secretary Vilsack in his diplomatic efforts to ensure science-based standards and regulations remain a top priority. Our members are committed to providing expertise and counsel to the USDA delegates charged with ensuring agriculture has a firm footing in 21st century trade agreements.”
National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern: “We in the dairy community who have had the opportunity to work with him have seen first-hand his deep passion for rural America and his commitment to advancing agriculture and the communities it serves, from farmers and food-sector workers to the consumers and businesses that depend on USDA to meet their needs every day, in every way. That’s especially important in light of today’s pressing challenges.”
Agricultural Retailers Association President and CEO Daren Coppock: "Secretary Vilsack knows the positive role that agriculture can play addressing climate change through working lands conservation programs, biofuels, agronomic practices and other innovations. ARA's membership recently adopted its policy positions for the year, and many of our values align as such. We are ready to work together to ensure that the ag retailer's voice continues to be heard."
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner: “(Vilsack) will arrive at the U.S. Department of Agriculture facing a series of pressing challenges. In the face of the pandemic and its economic fallout, Secretary Vilsack will need to lead USDA in helping agriculture and rural America to build back more resilient and more equitably than it was before. NCFC and our country’s farmer co-ops look forward to contributing to this difficult task in the years ahead.”
National WIC Association President and CEO Douglas Greenaway: “In his confirmation hearing, Vilsack's early commitment to expanding access to nutritious foods, reaching out to families in need, making USDA programs more accessible, and addressing systematic racial inequities is a welcome refrain as Vilsack assumes his role overseeing the federal department charged with overseeing the nation’s food supply chain in the midst of a national hunger crisis.”
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor: “Secretary Vilsack has been a tireless champion of the biofuels industry over the years and understands the important role biofuels should play in our country’s climate change initiatives which the Biden administration has put at the forefront of its agenda.”
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper: “Tom Vilsack is the right leader at the right time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and he intimately understands that agriculture can and should play a vital role in addressing our world’s most pressing challenges — from food and energy security to climate change and environmental justice.”
Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia: “We are pleased the Senate has confirmed Tom Vilsack as Secretary. Our work with him during his previous service as Secretary yielded positive policy actions for the fresh produce industry. Looking ahead, we must band together to address short term, pandemic-related needs such as funding for worker safety costs, as well as larger and longer term threats to the viability of farming in the West. Over the next four years, we know Secretary Vilsack will work with us as he has in the past to ensure economic prosperity for America's family farmers.”
Union of Concerned Scientist Food and Environment Program Director Ricardo Salvador: “On day one he faces a series of crises: the pandemic thrusting millions of people into hunger, the climate crisis, the imperative to rebuild rural economies undermined by export-oriented business models, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture that itself needs rebuilding after being gutted by four years of chaotic and unscientific management.”
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica: “(Vilsack) must be willing to take on the agribusiness lobby, which has dominated the agency and features prominently on his own resume. He must transform the USDA to support a more diversified, regenerative, healthy, and just food system. He cannot rely on harmful policies like subsidizing biofuels and carbon markets that benefit Big Ag corporations at the expense of communities of color, low-income people, and the planet. He must ensure economic justice for independent and Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color, protections for food workers, and access to healthy food for every American.”
Food and Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter: “We can confidently predict what Tom Vilsack’s leadership of the Agriculture Department will look like, because he’s led it before. And the prediction is grim. In his previous stint at USDA, Vilsack backed mass corporate consolidation of our food system at the expense of struggling family farmers. Similarly, he readily advanced industry-driven initiatives allowing companies to inspect their own poultry processing plants, dismantling federal oversight of food and worker safety."
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