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Senate Confirms Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture

Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported on Tuesday that, “The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack to head the Department of Agriculture, returning the former Iowa governor to the job he held under ex-President Barack Obama.

“The 100-member Senate approved Vilsack 92-7. He needed a simple majority in the Democratic-controlled chamber to be confirmed.”

Mr. Polansek noted that,

Vilsack has said the White House wants to tap a pool of funds from the agency’s Commodity Credit Corporation to support on-the-farm efforts to fight climate change, a policy priority for new President Joe Biden.

“The Depression-era program of up to $30 billion in annual funding was tapped by the Trump administration to distribute billions of dollars in aid to cover farmers’ lost sales due to trade wars, primarily with China.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Tuesday that, “Voting against Vilsack’s confirmation were Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, also voted to oppose Vilsack.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “The new secretary comes in with the agricultural economy recovering due to higher commodity prices, driven by higher exports to China. USDA last week forecast record farm exports and higher cash receipts for commodities in 2021. Farm income will fall this year, though, because government payments to farmers are expected to dial back.

“Vilsack served as USDA secretary from 2009 to 2017 under the Obama administration.”

The DTN article added that, “During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Vilsack addressed some of the issues raised by critics. Vilsack said he had to recognize it is a different time, he is ‘a different person’ and ‘it is a different department.’ Vilsack said the country faces a series of ‘why not opportunities’ in agriculture, in the food industry and in rural America.”

Writing on the front page of Wednesday’s Des Moines Register, Donnelle Eller reported that, “Already the second-longest-serving U.S. secretary of agriculture, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack began an unprecedented return engagement Tuesday as the Senate confirmed his nomination to the post in the Biden administration.”

“Senate confirms Vilsack’s return,” by Donnelle Eller. Des Moines Register (February 24, 2021).

The Register article stated that, “Vilsack said the U.S. can build markets and provide incentives that pay farmers to improve soil health, sequester carbon, capture and reuse methane, and create manufacturing that turns agricultural ‘waste material into new chemicals and materials and fabrics and fibers.’ One idea calls for famers to receive and sell credits for the carbon they keep out of the atmosphere.”

And Washington Post writer Laura Reiley reported on Tuesday that, “[Vilsack] will head the agency at a time of rising food insecurity because of the pandemic. An estimated 50 million Americans are food insecure, and food banks and pantries around the country are running low.

“Vilsack will also face demands to provide assistance to farmers after the Biden administration held up $2.3 billion in aid for farmers approved by the Trump administration.”

The Post article indicated that, “He also promised to prioritize racial justice as well as support and incentivize farmers, ranchers and foresters to adopt climate-friendly practices.”

Also Tuesday, Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning reported that, “Vilsack, 70, stressed voluntary incentives to farmers to adopt more climate-friendly practices in his confirmation hearings and while campaigning on behalf of Biden during the presidential election campaign. Biden set a goal during the campaign for the U.S. to be the first country to cut its agriculture sector’s net greenhouse gas emissions to zero.”

“The Biden USDA has embraced legislation proposed by newly elected Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia to include $5 billion for Black, Hispanic and Native American farmers in the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package. The funding would include $4 billion to help minority farmers pay off USDA loans and $1 billion to address systemic racism at the USDA,” the Bloomberg article said.

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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