February 1, 2023
For Russell Redding, another term as ag secretary is almost par for the course at this point.
But for Kevin Atticks, who just took office as Maryland’s newest ag secretary, it’s the first time he’s held a position in public office.
So, what plans do these two public servants have for ag in their states, and what do they see as the industry’s biggest challenges? Here’s what they said during recent interviews — Redding at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, and Atticks during a recent phone interview:
Redding has become a mainstay in the ag department. He served for eight years as ag secretary under former Gov. Tom Wolf, and two years as ag secretary — even longer as deputy ag secretary — under former Gov. Ed Rendell.
It’s a run that he calls unprecedented. In fact, he didn’t even know if he wanted to come back for another term, given the fact that his wife, Nina, had just retired from her job and he had already served consecutively for nearly a decade.
“I was pretty certain that it was time to go,” he said. But meetings with incoming Gov. Josh Shapiro changed his mind. Redding said that Shapiro’s view of agriculture as a cornerstone of the state’s economic development was something he felt he could be on board with.
“At the end of the day, it was a sense that after conversations with him, I just felt like I could add some value to that,” he said.
The fact that the department was placed within the economic development hub of Shapiro’s cabinet is a sign to Redding that Shapiro is committed to new investments and workforce development in agriculture and addressing regulatory concerns from farmers.
“So, to have someone in the executive office who views ag in this sense, I felt like I wanted to come back,” Redding said.
Redding has set three big goals for the start of his new term, starting with a getting a new state budget passed that will focus on agriculture and economic development. He also hopes the new budget will reflect the organizational needs of the department and ensure the state’s Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System is fully funded. “We’re still trying to recover from HPAI, and making sure that lab system is funded is crucial,” he said.
Addressing issues around ag workforce development and ensuring the state meets its Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals are also top priorities, Redding said.
During a recent phone conversation, Kevin Atticks said that he has a lot to learn about agriculture as he takes over as ag secretary in Maryland.
He spent the past eight years leading Annapolis, Md.-based Grow & Fortify, a firm he founded to help value-added ag businesses and organizations deal with state regulations, and help businesses grow through consulting work.
Before that, Atticks worked in the state’s wine industry as an author, and then later as industry director handling government affairs and other things pertinent to the wine industry.
He does not have an ag background. He grew up in Prince George’s County, a suburban county of Washington, D.C., and has lived in Baltimore and Colorado.
NEW SECRETARY: Kevin Atticks, newly appointed Maryland secretary of agriculture, said that he sees agriculture as a pillar of economic development. If farmers are profitable, then agriculture will thrive. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Agriculture)
Atticks said that he sees agriculture as a pillar of economic development — if farmers are profitable, then agriculture will thrive.
“It’s the helping of the people, the farmers, that has really got me going in that direction,” he said.
He said that he and newly sworn-in Gov. Wes Moore had many conversations on the campaign trail about Moore’s goals to address childhood poverty, keep the state competitive and grow its economy, and address climate issues. Atticks said that agriculture can play a big role in helping solve those issues. He called farmers the original conservationists and environmentalists.
“We've got real issues that need to be solved and real assets that need to be protected,” he said. “Preserving farms for the Chesapeake Bay is way better than any type of development.”
“I really feel the governor was interested in seeing someone thinking of things a little bit differently,” he said. “My goal … for the next three to four months is to meet with everybody and to be out of the office to attend those meetings. My goal is to learn not only what has been challenging, but what are the successes, what are the innovations. The needs we will work on, but what are the successes we can brag about.”
Atticks admits that some people close to him were shocked at his being named to lead the ag department. Even a deputy secretary asked him if he had enough “dirt under his nails” to lead the department and with the farm community.
But his 20 years of experience working with the wine industry, and later with value-added ag businesses, has him confident that he can work with farmers and deliver solutions that can grow the industry.
"I'm a big fan of knowing your strengths, and when you need a hand, you take the opportunity to ask for help,” Atticks said. “I can't claim to know all the facets of the industry, and frankly, not even a farmer can say that. It's time that everybody puts their head up, look around and start having conservations.”
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