WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2017 - Donald Trump takes office in just over two weeks and we still don’t know who his agriculture secretary is going to be. Last week, it appeared that Trump planned to select a Hispanic for the post, either former Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla or former Texas A&M University President Elsa Murano. Trump interviewed and had his photo taken with both.

But on Monday, reports confirmed by Agri-Pulse had a new leader for the position, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, whom Trump interviewed in November. Then on Tuesday, the search process took another twist: CNN reported that still another leader had emerged, former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldanado, who also interviewed last week with Trump. The CNN report couldn’t be confirmed by Agri-Pulse.

The delay would appear to mean that USDA is likely to be without a Senate-confirmed secretary when Trump takes office Jan. 20. But who knows how this process really works? Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was sworn in Jan. 21, 2009, after being announced the previous Dec. 17, more than a month earlier. The Senate Agriculture Committee held Vilsack’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 14, 2009.

Perdue, 70, served two terms as Georgia governor, from 2003 to 2011. Although he has a doctorate in veterinary medicine, Perdue spent most of his career in business, including agribusiness and transportation in rural Houston County. The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, was president of the Georgia Farm Bureau when Perdue was governor and tells Agri-Pulse that he “understands agriculture and its importance to our country and its citizens.”

Duvall, who traveled on several trade missions with Perdue, said he “always had an open door to farmers.”

The shift in focus toward Perdue took some observers in agriculture by surprise since it appeared that Trump had decided to use the USDA post to diversify his cabinet by picking a Hispanic. The cabinet so far is dominated by older white men, and Veterans Affairs is the only other seat yet to be filled other than agriculture.


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