American farm groups are celebrating the Biden administration’s long-waited decision to name a nominee to be the Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for trade. President Joe Biden has again gone back to the Obama administration to fill a high-level role at USDA with the choice of Alexis Taylor to be the top trade official at the department.

Taylor, who was the USDA deputy undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service during the Obama administration, will be reporting once again to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who held the same cabinet position under former President Barack Obama.

Improving the ability of farmers to sell their commodities overseas is a major component of USDA’s responsibilities and Taylor will play a major role, Vilsack said Friday.

“Her nomination builds upon USDA’s commitment to link U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities for American farmers and producers and increase global food security,” Vilsack said in a statement. “I am confident Alexis is the right person to lead as we continue to address global food security, promote American exports across the globe and strengthen trade relationships with our global partners.”

Farm groups were quick to offer favorable reactions to Taylor's selection Friday. 

“I have known Alexis in a professional capacity for well over a decade, and she is someone with a deep understanding of agriculture, particularly as it relates to foreign markets, and she is widely respected by policymakers on both sides of the aisle,” said Brooke Appleton, vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association. “I cannot think of a better person to represent the Biden administration on this issue.”

Taylor's selection also received the "enthusiastic endorsement" of Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, of which Taylor is currently a member in her capacity as Oregon's ag director. 

"We know Director Taylor’s passion for seeking market opportunities for American farmers, ranchers and food producers of all types," McKinney said. "Her previous experience at USDA, her character and her deep understanding of how regulations across the globe matter for individuals in our communities will benefit all Americans,”

Taylor’s experience at USDA, Capitol Hill and as head of the Oregon Department of Agriculture make her a known commodity in Washington and outside the beltway. Before going to USDA, she served as the legislative advisor to Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and later, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. During her time on the Hill, Taylor was involved in the process of crafting the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. 

“USA Rice has worked with Alexis before in her previous roles and we are excited for her to be nominated to this critical position,” said USA Rice President and CEO Betsy Ward.

U.S. Grains Council President and CEO Ryan LeGrand is also lauding Taylor’s qualifications for the job.

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“She has a strong background in agriculture from growing up on a farm in Iowa, and also has a deep knowledge of trade issues,” LeGrand said. “We look forward to working with her to promote American agriculture.”

The Senate will have to approve Taylor’s nomination and farm sector leaders are urging lawmakers to act quickly.

“We have been saying for more than a year that the Administration needs to fill this top spot because trade deals around the world are moving forward and U.S. agriculture is being left behind,” Ward said. “USA Rice strongly encourages the Senate to take up her nomination and confirm her quickly so U.S. ag can get back in the game.”

Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley said he was pleased to see Taylor being nominated, but also expressed frustration that it took so long to get a nominee.

Vilsack has expressed frustration recently over the complexities of the nomination process and the rigorous ethics requirements when asked about difficulties in nominating the undersecretary position at USDA as well as the chief agricultural trade negotiator at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“While I’m very pleased an Iowan whom I know to be talented and hardworking has been nominated for this role, the announcement is long overdue,” Grassley said. “I once again urge the Biden administration to also nominate a qualified individual for Chief Agricultural Negotiator at USTR without delay.”

The Biden administration did announce Elaine Trevino as its choice to be USTR’s chief ag negotiator, but she withdrew from the nomination process in March.

“We have a very high threshold and we’re requiring folks to do things that they are just not willing to do,” Vilsack said in March about the nomination process. “It’s frustrating.”

Meanwhile, Grassley stressed his faith in Taylor.

“U.S. agricultural producers need to have a leading voice on the world stage who can advocate for free and fair trade, especially in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said. “Thankfully, Alexis Taylor has the right background and experience to hit the ground running, and I look forward to supporting her throughout the Senate confirmation process ahead,”

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