Jewel Bronaugh, the first African-American woman nominated to serve as deputy secretary of agriculture, sailed through her confirmation hearing Thursday as she pledged to work closely with senators on issues affecting the nation’s producers.

Both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Agriculture Committee praised the Virginia agriculture commissioner, citing her breadth of experience, 

In response to concerns expressed by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, that the Biden administration’s “singular focus on climate policy” could cause some to see farmers not “as part of the solution but …  targeted as part of the problem,” Bronaugh said, “I will ensure that we keep our farmers, ranchers and landowners first in discussions and plans to address climate change.”

She also praised USDA employees. “I value their work and I identify with their selfless commitment,” she said. “My parents taught me humility and they encouraged me to treat others with dignity.”

Bronaugh became Virginia ag commissioner in 2018 after serving three years as state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Virginia.

Bronaugh also served for five years as dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University, where she had previously been associate administrator of Cooperative Extension and a 4-H Youth Development Specialist, where she developed and delivered programs that addressed issues of bullying among youth.

Her confirmation appears to be almost certain, with no senators expressing opposition.

Bronaugh talked about the importance of biofuels in a clean energy economy, including the development of bio-based products and answered questions that covered a variety of agricultural issues important to the members, mostly by promising to pursue more information if she is confirmed.

Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand, D-N.Y., said the Class I milk pricing rule that has been in effect the past two years has cost dairy producers “hundreds of millions of dollars” and asked whether USDA might give farmers “a chance to revert back to the old method by basing [the price] off the higher of the Class III or Class IV price.”

“I do understand the importance of ensuring they get stabilized prices for their milk,” Bronaugh said, promising to “learn more” about how prices are determined.

She also pledged to find out more about a series of rulemakings important to the organic industry that have been stalled at USDA, including the origin of livestock rule that would shut down a loophole allowing livestock operators to game the system, and the organic livestock and poultry practices rule.

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On the 30x30 initiative, under which the Biden administration seeks to conserve 30% of the nation’s land and waters, Bronaugh emphasized the importance of working lands.

“We will continue to determine how we can utilize working lands as an integral part of addressing the 30x30 goal,” she said.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., reiterated his concern that USDA may try to use the Commodity Credit Corp. to set up a carbon bank, saying he did not want that to damage the bipartisanship that has led to the support for the GCSA on both sides of the aisle.

Bronaugh said if confirmed, she would talk to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack about the CCC’s role.

She also stressed the importance of equity, with racial equality being a major focus throughout the Biden administration. "Each time I speak with Secretary Vilsack, we discuss equity," she said. 

"If confirmed, I will be a champion for all farmers, producers, families, and rural communities who rely on USDA," she said. "I will remain committed to helping lead a department that serves all Americans equally."

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