WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack to lead the USDA for a second time.
Vilsack, 70, will be the 32nd agriculture secretary. He previously served eight years in the same role in the Obama administration.
He is the former governor of Iowa and has lately been president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a dairy trade and lobbying group.
This confirmation puts him in office two months earlier than his predecessor, Sonny Perdue, who was confirmed April 24, 2017. But it’s a month later than Vilsack was confirmed the first time around, on Inauguration Day in 2009.
Once Vilsack is sworn in, policymakers say the agency’s pandemic relief efforts and other agriculture-related policies can kick into high gear.
“American farmers, families and rural communities need strong, effective leadership now more than ever,” Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in her opening remarks during the Senate confirmation hearing.
She praised Vilsack’s deep understanding of rural America and said she expects he will lead USDA well.
In his confirmation hearing, Vilsack fielded questions on trade policy, the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and climate change. But because the incoming ag secretary had already faced hours of questioning earlier in the month in the committee, the questioning Tuesday was brief.
Many farm groups and industry leaders nationwide welcomed Vilsack back.
“(The American Farm Bureau Federation) congratulates Tom Vilsack on his confirmation as the next secretary of agriculture,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement Tuesday. “His strong track record of leadership and previous experience at USDA will serve rural America well.”
Duvall said he and Vilsack have spoken “several times in recent weeks” about the opportunities and challenges facing American farmers, and he looks forward to working with the returning secretary.
Similarly, Dave Puglia, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association, a group representing produce and tree nut growers, warmly welcomed Vilsack’s leadership.
“We are pleased the Senate has confirmed Tom Vilsack as secretary. Our work with him during his previous service as secretary yielded positive policy actions for the fresh produce industry,” he said in a statement.
Other groups, including some environmental advocacy groups, sustainable agriculture organizations and groups representing minorities, have criticized Vilsack.
“In his previous stint at USDA, Vilsack backed mass corporate consolidation of our food system at the expense of struggling farmers,” Wenonah Hauter, director of environmental organization Food and Water Watch, said in a statement Tuesday. “Similarly, he readily advanced industry-driven initiatives allowing companies to inspect their own poultry processing plants, dismantling federal oversight of food and worker safety.”
In his committee hearing Feb. 2, Vilsack told senators his four priorities when leading USDA this time will be climate change, food insecurity, competition and inequity.
He said at the time that he plans to create voluntary, incentive-based carbon markets for farmers, invest in regional food systems, maintain strong crop insurance programs, strengthen wood product markets, bolster meat labeling standards and help disadvantaged farmers.More coverage here.