The Senate on Tuesday confirmed an important member of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s team at USDA, approving the nomination of Robert Bonnie to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

The vote was 76-19, with more than two dozen Republicans backing Bonnie, including farm-state lawmakers such as Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, ranking member of the Agriculture Committee. 

Bonnie will oversee the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency and play a key role in implementing the administration's climate policy, including its Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative, designed to fund regional pilot projects using climate-smart practices.

The administration hopes to begin doling out money for those projects in the first part of 2022. Nearly 400 comments were received with recommendations on what to fund.

Assuming Congress passes the President Joe Biden's Build Back Better plan, Bonnie also would be responsible for overseeing $27 billion in new conservation funding 

"Taken together, the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Risk Management Agency provide the first line of defense for our farmers and ranchers against droughts, floods and wildfires and other extreme weather," Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said on the floor before the vote.

"Throughout his career, Mr. Bonnie has built strong partnerships with farmers, with ranchers, with foresters, with communities."

Boozman said in a statement that Bonnie "is no stranger to USDA, having previously served at the department during the Obama administration. During his previous tenure, Mr. Bonnie developed a reputation of listening to stakeholders, an approach I expect will continue as he is sworn in as undersecretary for farm production and conservation.

Bonnie served as undersecretary for natural resources and environment at USDA during the Obama administration.

Bonnie has been serving as a senior climate adviser to Vilsack while awaiting confirmation. He also was co-chair of the Biden administration's transition team for USDA and was vice president for land conservation at the Environmental Defense Fund. 

He has advocated for using the Commodity Credit Corp. to set up a carbon bank to encourage carbon sequestration efforts by farmers, ranchers and foresters. Republicans have pushed back against the idea, but at his confirmation hearing in July, Bonnie said USDA could use CCC to incentivize climate-smart practices.  

At the same time, he said any such proposal would have to have the support of producers.

Vilsack is planning to fund the Climate-Smart projects with the CCC authority.

Bonnie was nominated in April, but an unknown number of senators had put holds on his nomination.