Vilsack expected to return as USDA secretary

Tom Vilsack speaks to farmers at a rural agricultural co-operative at Guira de Melena in Cuba on Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini)

Washington/Chicago | Reuters — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for agriculture secretary, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Biden transition office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Vilsack, who led the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under former president Barack Obama, could not immediately be reached. His spokeswoman, Regina Black, declined to comment “as an official announcement hasn’t been made.”

Vilsack’s return to USDA is likely to be applauded by Midwestern states that produce the bulk of commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, and prefer him to someone from another region of the country.

The Farm Belt was battered by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and waivers that exempted oil refiners from obligations to use corn-based ethanol. But Midwestern farmers also received an unprecedented amount of direct farm subsidies under Trump even as coronavirus stimulus for millions of other Americans stalled in Congress.

Vilsack, who is chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, actively campaigned for Biden in farm states, acting as his rural and agriculture adviser during the election.

Iowa’s governor from 1999 to 2007, Vilsack is seen by establishment Democrats as a politically safe choice, largely because of his moderate politics, previous experience and long-standing, friendly relationships with large-scale farmers.

A coalition of progressive food, farming and environmental advocacy groups promoted rival candidates.

Top among them was Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who would have been the first Black woman to fill the role and was expected to increase the department’s focus on small farmers, global environmental changes, and racial and economic diversity.

Biden has selected Fudge to be secretary of housing and urban development, Politico reported.

“Vilsack is not what the USDA and our country needs to help make U.S. agriculture more sustainable and resilient in the time of climate crisis,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety.

Among Canadian farmers, Vilsack is likely to be remembered as one of the Obama administration’s point people on cross-border matters such as U.S. country-of-origin labelling on meat; access for U.S. farmers to Canada’s supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry markets; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, from which Trump later withdrew U.S. participation.

— Reporting for Reuters by Eric Beech, Caroline Stauffer, Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter. Includes files from Glacier FarmMedia Network staff.

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