Washington, D.C., is in flux right now as the newly elected Donald Trump works to set up his administration. Of course, one of the big questions farmers across the country are pondering is who will be the next Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
Although the position for Secretary of the USDA isn’t quite as sexy as, say, Attorney General or Secretary of State, the person tapped for that position will have a significant impact over agriculture during his or her tenure. The Secretary needs to understand, among other things, the complexity of the United States food system, the role of technology, the importance of trade, and how consumer perception is shaping the industry. Choosing the right person for the job will be key in moving agriculture in a positive direction, while also maintaining a balance between competing interests.
While we don’t have any official shortlist for the most likely candidates that President-elect Trump will nominate for the position, there is buzz surrounding a few frontrunners. Based on a shortlist obtained by Politico, here’s a rundown of the potential frontrunners:
Sid Miller. Mr. Miller is currently the Agriculture Commissioner for the State of Texas. He claims to be an eighth generation farmer and rancher who uses his real world farming experience to shape how he performs in his current role. He breeds and trains American Quarter Horses and holds nine world championship titles as a rodeo cowboy. Miller’s focus as Agriculture Commissioner has been safeguarding private property rights and water resources. Some of his accomplishments in the position include broadening and growing the GO TEXAN marketing program for Texas agriculture, establishing the Farm Fresh Fridays initiative to bring fresh local foods to schools, and reforming the agency to promote efficiency. Miller became a bit of a controversial figure toward the end of the presidential campaign when he tweeted a less than gentlemanly comment about Hillary Clinton.
Sam Brownback. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, now in his second term, started life with his brothers and sisters on their parent’s pig farm near Parker, Kansas. Brownback’s background is littered with agriculture leadership positions. In high school, he was elected state president of the Future Farmers of America, and later the National FFA Vice-President. He earned his degree in Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University before attending the University of Kansas for law school. Later, the governor served as the Kansas Department of Agriculture Secretary. In his role, he tried to protect the interest of farmers, promote market expansion, and support new farming technologies. After being elected as both a U.S. Representative and a Senator, he ran for governor.
Dave Heineman. Fans of ethanol may be rooting for the former governor of Nebraska. After serving in the Nebraska Legislature, Heineman was selected to be the Chairman of the Governor’s Ethanol Coalition in 2007. He is considered a leader in Nebraska’s agriculture industry, securing trade agreements with foreign governments for commodity groups in the state.
Sonny Perdue. Mr. Perdue is the former two-term Georgia Governor. He was born and raised on a family farm in the state. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in veterinary medicine. He is now part of the Bipartisan Policy Center and is considered an expert on agriculture.
Rick Perry. While his latest gig was appearing on Dancing with the Stars, the former Texas Governor and presidential contender knows a thing or two about agriculture. Perry was the son of tenant farmers in Texas. He attended and graduated with a degree in animal science from Texas A&M before operating a cotton farm. After serving as the Agriculture Commissioner, he was elected as the Lieutenant Governor of the state. Mr. Perry assumed the position of governor when President George W. Bush was elected.
Charles Herbster. You probably didn’t know who Herbster was until recently when he was appointed the National Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee for Trump. He also runs several farm businesses, including an Angus cattle farm in Nebraska, an equipment business in Missouri, and a cattle breeding company in Virginia. When he was chosen for the advisory position on the Trump campaign he stated his main issues for the campaign would include reducing regulation, revising trade agreements, and eliminating estate taxes. Herbster may be a shoe in for the job of USDA Secretary: he’s been a long-time friend of Trump.
Mike McCloskey. Dairy producers would probably appreciate seeing Mr. McCloskey as USDA Secretary, because he has worked extensively with dairy products. He was awarded his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Mexico before completing a program at the University of California in Dairy Production Medicine. McCloskey is the Co-Founder and CEO of Select Milk Producers, which is the sixth-largest milk cooperative in the United States. His home farm is Fair Oaks Dairy, a farm with 15,000 milking cows located in Northwest Indiana. McCloskey has founded and serves as Chairman of the Southwest Cheese Company, which owns the largest cheddar cheese plant in the world. McCloskey is also a board members of the National Milk Producers Federation.
Of course, there are other serious contenders for the USDA Secretary that President-elect Trump could choose. While my own track record for picking winners is particularly limited (about this time last year I remember assuring my concerned grandmother that Donald Trump would never be the GOP nominee), I’d like to see Rick Perry or Sam Brownback take the position. Although they espouse the establishment mentality that Trump doesn’t seem to like, I appreciate the vast experience they have with this type of position. I also like that they started off as farm kids, which sounds like an excellent qualification to me.
But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see on who President-elect Trump eventually chooses.