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Reports indicate Obama’s 8-year agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack could be interested in the job.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

December 7, 2020

3 Min Read
Biden Vilsack 2019.jpg
Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack endorsed Joe Biden at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Nov. 23, 2019.Biden Flickr

As President-elect Joe Biden continues to make announcements regarding his cabinet, former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack looks to now be a front runner to return. According to media reports, four people familiar with the discussions say Biden is leaning toward choosing Vilsack to return to the post after serving eight years under the Obama administration.

In recent weeks, much of the attention for the post centered around former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge. Other nominees include Russell Redding, commissioner of agriculture in Pennsylvania and new to the list is former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Vilsack currently serves as the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and served as a governor of Iowa from 1999 to 2007. He also was featured regularly as a speaker on calls hosted by the Democrat-leaning group Focus on Rural to draw Democrat attention to issues in rural America. He consistently called for action by the Trump Administration to defend the ethanol industry and encouraged COVID government assistance for ethanol.  

In an exclusive interview in August, Vilsack said he anticipated a Biden administration would work within alliances to address China and trade issues but didn’t expect Biden to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Instead, Biden will “likely be confronted with having to deal with the ongoing pandemic, a recession that is deep as some are now predicting it could be a double dip recession and some serious pressure to resolve racial justice concerns. The administration is also cognizant of the damage that threats like climate change could present to the country.”

During Vilsack’s tenure at USDEC, he’s championed the many ways the dairy industry looks to build on sustainability initiatives and its net zero emissions goals. He notes that Biden believes that “U.S. agriculture has the capacity to provide global leadership in this space but doing so in a way that creates not additional burdens for farmers, but additional income for farmers.”

Vilsack was an early Biden supporter, and during the August interview also defended the Biden-Harris “extensive and detailed rural American plan.” Vilsack says, “I think the policy formulation is solid, comprehensive and doable.”

Food & Water Watch, along with a broad coalition of farm, environmental, food safety and animal welfare organizations, recently endorsed Ohio Democrat Rep. Marcia Fudge to be the next agriculture secretary. Fudge is an African American woman and currently serves as the chair for the House Agriculture’s nutrition subcommittee.

“Tom Vilsack has a long and detailed record on food and agriculture – a record that clearly demonstrates why he would be a very bad pick to lead the USDA,” Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones. “Much like Senator Heitkamp, Vilsack has made a career of catering to the whims of corporate agriculture giants – some of whom he has gone to work for – while failing to fight for struggling family farmers at every turn. America needs an agriculture secretary that will finally prioritize sustainable family farming and national food security over corporate profits. Tom Vilsack has proven he will not be the Agriculture leader we need.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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