WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2017 - We’re just nine days away from President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration and there’s no sign of his agriculture secretary. Speculation abounded last week that former Gov. Sonny Perdue had a lock on the job, but there are signs Trump may be looking elsewhere. 

A member of Trump’s agriculture advisory team, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., tells Agri-Pulse that there are regional tensions at play, and that there is still pressure to use the nomination to put a Hispanic in the cabinet. Aderholt chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that controls USDA’s budget. 

Maldonado backer huddles with Trump advisers. The president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Javier Palomarez, wrote an op-ed earlier this week promoting former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado for the job. And yesterday, Palomarez met with members of Trump’s transition team. 

There was no word from the group on whether Palomarez talked about Maldonado in that meeting, except that the meeting covered a “variety of issues.” Palomarez is a member of Trump’s National Diversity Council.

In the op-ed, Palomarez wrote, “Having a real farmer, who understands firsthand the complexities of the agricultural sector, is important to effectively lead the Department of Agriculture. That is why America needs Abel Maldonado.”

Maldonado is the eldest son of immigrant Mexican farm workers who turned a half-acre strawberry farm near Santa Barbara into a 6,000-acre operation.

Democrats blast Labor pick. Some in agriculture have been encouraged that Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, has an appreciation for immigrant labor. But Senate Democrats are using the run-up to Puzder’s confirmation hearing to highlight claims that he underpaid workers at his chains, Carls Jr. and Hardee’s. 

Democrats held an informal hearing yesterday for some of the workers. Debbie Stabenow, the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said it was “outrageous” in view of the complaints that Puzder is in line to run the Labor Department. “That person is supposed to be advocating for each of you,” Stabenow said. 

Stabenow is one of 23 Democrats who signed a letter asking for Puzder’s confirmation hearing to include witnesses who will talk about his labor practices. 

Roberts to discuss trade concerns with USTR pick. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts plans to meet Thursday with Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer. Lighthizer, a trade lawyer who served at USTR under Ronald Reagan, is known primarily for pursuing trade enforcement cases against China. 

Roberts plans to press Lighthizer on U.S. agriculture’s concerns about Trump’s trade policy and his plan to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Roberts says he wants to make clear that “an aggressive trade policy that involves agriculture is absolutely essential.  

Farm Bureau preserves support for insurance-conservation linkage. The American Farm Bureau Federation is standing behind its support for linking conservation requirements to federal crop insurance, but the issue sparked a sharp debate yesterday at the group’s annual meeting. 

The AFBF policy recommendations supported the linkage, but North Dakota delegates led a reversal motion that passed 178 to 139. Later in the day, they reversed course again to reaffirm the existing policy on a strong vote of 255-85. Conservation compliance was added to crop insurance in 2014 as part of a broad deal between farm groups and conservation organizations. 

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said that conservation compliance was a realistic expectation in exchange for public support of agriculture.

For more on the incoming Trump administration as well as the Farm Bureau meeting, and the outlook for regulatory reform in Congress, be sure and read this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter. 

Five new Democrats join House Ag. Jimmy Panetta, a freshman House Democrat who represents California’s Salinas Valley, is one of five new Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee. All five are new to Congress. 

Panetta, the son of Leon Panetta, who served as CIA director and secretary of defense under President Obama, replaced Sam Farr, who was the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee before his retirement last year. 

The other five new Ag members are Dwight Evans from Philadelphia; Al Lawson and Darren Soto, who represent districts in central Florida; and Tom O’Halleran, who represents much of eastern and northeastern Arizona. 

The new members will replace three Democrats who left Congress and a fourth, Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., who’s taking a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy.  

RFK Jr. sighting. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has long been a harsh critic of livestock agriculture, showed up at Trump Tower yesterday, albeit on a different issue than farm runoff. 

Kennedy, who is president of the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, also is a leading proponent of the theory linking vaccines to autism. Trump has reportedly asked Kennedy to lead a panel to review vaccine safety.

Transition shift on Dole role. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer has rescinded an announcement that former Sen. Bob Dole would be vice chair of the transition. “Due to some time commitments he’s not able to take on an official role,” Spicer said. 

Spicer did not say what Dole was going to do as vice chair. 

He said it. “Earl Butz, is he being considered?” - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts’ quip to reporters who asked about Trump’s search for agriculture secretary.


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