Vilsack confirmed as new U.S. agriculture secretary

By Julie Tomascik

Tom Vilsack joins the Biden administration for his second stint as U.S. secretary of agriculture.

As secretary, Vilsack will oversee crop insurance, land conservation, nutrition, rural development and natural resources, among others.

In his confirmation hearing in early February, Vilsack noted the challenges facing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) now are different than they were 12 years ago when he first served in this role.

“Texas Farm Bureau congratulates Tom Vilsack on his confirmation as the 32nd U.S. secretary of agriculture. During his eight years as secretary in the Obama administration, Vilsack worked with our country’s farmers and ranchers to advance policies important and beneficial to agriculture,” TFB President Russell Boening said. “We stand ready to work with Secretary Vilsack again on critical issues, such as the farm bill, rural connectivity, supply chain, regulatory reform, coronavirus relief and more. Texas Farm Bureau will work to ensure any climate policies enacted by the administration are market-based, voluntary and respectful of farmers and ranchers.”

Vilsack previously served as the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council since 2017 after serving eight years as the nation’s 30th secretary of agriculture.

Vilsack told the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at his confirmation hearing that he has several priorities as secretary. They include establishing a “new era for equity and fairness” at USDA.

He also plans to address climate issues and have farmers voluntarily help achieve the Biden administration’s pledge to make U.S. agriculture carbon neutral.
Vilsack said he would create an agricultural carbon bank and other programs to help farmers and ranchers adopt sustainable agricultural practices and noted that farmers are already implementing climate-smart farming practices and should be incentivized with market opportunities.

In his committee hearing, Vilsack also touched on the concentration in the meatpacking sector and suggested working with the U.S. Department of Justice to establish another task force to study fair prices in the sector.

He emphasized the need for increased processing capacity, citing disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Also among Vilsack’s responsibilities is evaluating the current round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments, which were frozen shortly after Biden took office. The CFAP payments were authorized by Congress in a COVID-19 relief package and omnibus last December.

Farm Bureau and Vilsack share many similar goals, including advancing American agriculture and maintaining a safe, affordable food supply.

“Secretary Vilsack will be presented with policy opportunities in the next four years to improve the lives of farmers, ranchers and rural Americans. Texas farmers and ranchers, along with those across the country, have faced unprecedented challenges that require strong leadership in Washington, D.C.,” Boening said. “Texas Farm Bureau will work with Secretary Vilsack to ensure commonsense policies are enacted to tackle these challenges. Our organization is committed to making sure agriculture is represented at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the administration to prevent policies that negatively impact farmers, ranchers and rural businesses.”

Prior to his first appointment as agriculture secretary, Vilsack served two terms as the Iowa governor, in the Iowa Senate and as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

Vilsack’s nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 23 by a 92-7 vote.