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Senate confirms Johanns as agriculture secretary

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Agriculture-designee and Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns became the first member of President Bush’s second-term cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Johanns, the son of an Iowa dairy farmer, was approved on a voice vote shortly after the president’s inauguration. He was expected to be sworn in by outgoing Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman later today.

Farm-state senators praised Johanns prior to the vote, calling him a “perfect choice” for the position that oversees a department with 113,000 employees.

“Gov. Johanns is extraordinarily well-prepared and qualified for this new challenge,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which held hearings on his nomination earlier this month.

“As leader of a major agricultural state, the governor is obviously familiar with the issues that are important to farmers and ranchers. He has been a leader in the Western Governors’ Association on drought issues and has led five trade missions to expand overseas markets for American agricultural products.”

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, also praised Johanns' appointment, but called on him to “work together with farm-state senators to fulfill the promise of the 2002 farm bill.”

Secretary Veneman, a California native who had nearly 20 years of service with USDA, announced Tuesday she will become executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Johanns is expected to retain a portion of Veneman’s USDA’s upper echelon, including chief of staff Dale Moore and J.B. Penn, an Arkansas native, who is undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, for the time being. Other personnel announcements are expected in early February

The new secretary grew up on a dairy farm I northeast Iowa. He graduated from law school in Nebraska and worked in private practice before being elected to two terms as mayor of Lincoln. In his two terms as governor, Johanns gained a reputation as a fiscal conservative, reducing the size of his office and making other spending cuts.

Chambliss said Johanns' stance on other issues will serve him well.

“He has also been a leader on other issues that are critical to the very diverse mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Chambliss noted. “He has been a strong voice for rural economic development. He is a past-chairman of the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition and knows the potential of value-added agriculture. He serves as Chairman of the Governors’ Biotechnology Partnership and has fostered electronic-government and technology applications in his state.”

Farm organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation offered their best wishes.

“Farm Bureau congratulates Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns on his unanimous confirmation by the U.S. Senate," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "These are crucial times for America’s farmers and ranchers, and we look forward to working with Secretary Johanns as he endeavors to carry out farm, food and conservation programs to benefit all Americans.

“We will work with Secretary Johanns in his support of enhanced roles for American-grown renewable fuels, such as biodiesel and ethanol. As trade negotiations affecting our farm goods continue, we offer our counsel and strong support as he seeks to open markets for our farm products. We believe Secretary Johanns will be a strong voice who understands and supports our fellow Americans who work with the land to provide food, fiber and fuel for our nation.

Stallman also pledged to work with the new secretary to hammer out the details for the 2007 farm bill.


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