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Longest-serving Obama Cabinet officer says farewell to his staff and heads back to Iowa.

Willie Vogt

January 15, 2017

3 Min Read
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: After an eight-year tenure at USDA, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stepped down last week.Willie Vogt

Editor's comment: I've had the opportunity to sit through a fair share of news conferences with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack - frankly more than any other since he's one of the longest-serving in U.S. history (not the longest, the late Orville Freeman from Minnesota still holds that distinction). In covering the secretary, and sharing a few in-jokes, and comments, we've found that his passion for U.S. agriculture, trade, nutrition programs, food safety and ethanol are long-held. Later in his tenure major farm groups (who can claim they elected Donald Trump to office) grew to respect this Secretary. Vilsack has left big shoes to fill in a department with a $150 billion budget and more than 90,000 employees. What follows is a roundup of coverage of Vilsack's last day, with links to that coverage.

On Friday the 13, agriculture got the official word that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had ended his tenure in the position, turning over the reins in the interim to Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse. We've rounded up a few of the news items about this departure, which some characterized as 'quitting early' and others just noted as the end of an era.

He shared his thoughts and a key message with employees as his play was heading West to Iowa. His farewell message to employees honored them for their work in nutrition, conservation and environmental protection.

In an exclusive interview with Farm Futures, Vilsack shared his highlights, and low lights, of his 8-year tenure in the position. The blog from writer Jacqui Fatka does a solid job of noting key accomplishments in conservation, food safety and his role as a spokesman for rural America. She also notes that Vilsack is moving on to become the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Check out her complete coverage of Vilsack and his legacy.

Others outside of agriculture are also commenting on what some characterized as an "early departure" since Vilsack vacated his post before a successor was named. That's a concern for farm groups who want to know who will be managing USDA and promoting key agendas of trade, conservation and food safety for the future.

In a Politico blog, the authors noted that Vilsack was critical of the Trump transition team's lack of engagement at USDA. Vilsack was confirmed on Jan. 20, 2009, the same day President Barack Obama was sworn into office. When Donald Trump is sworn in Friday, there's no Secretary of Agriculture at the head of USDA. The Politico blog talks further about Vilsack's legacy.

In Modern Farmer, the writer started with some attitude in a story titled "USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Abruptly Quits. What the Heck is Going On Over There?" and the story started with the Associated Press position that Vilsack was quitting early, but later Modern Farmer amended its story when it was pointed out to its writers that Sec. Vilsack had already announced Friday would be his last day - to key senior staff. Check out the Modern Farmer's updated story that also notes with a short work week this week (and Vilsack's officially last week) that it made sense to leave last week.

About the Author(s)

Willie Vogt

Willie Vogt has been covering agricultural technology for more than 40 years, with most of that time as editorial director for Farm Progress. He is passionate about helping farmers better understand how technology can help them succeed, when appropriately applied.

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