As first reported Wednesday by The Associated Press, president-elect Joe Biden has now officially nominated Tom Vilsack to be the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack served in that role at the head of the USDA for eight years during the Obama administration and has stayed very close to the agricultural industry as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council since then.
His nomination was perhaps considered a “safe” choice by many considering the division many people had over leading candidates Heidi Heitkamp, a former senator from North Dakota, and Marcia Fudge, a congresswoman from Ohio. Yet, not everyone is happy about the selection of Vilsack. According to Politico, Vilsack’s nomination “enraged many farmers of color who say his record on civil rights should have disqualified him from the job.”
Fudge, who is black, was nominated to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to The Week, “This is a slap in the face of Black Democrats in multiple ways. First, it reinforces the stereotype that HUD is where you stuff token Black people you don’t actually care about (see: Ben Carson), basically because it has “urban” in the name.” The publication then noted that Vilsack was under fire years ago for giving in “to a racist smear campaign directed at another Black woman” after a heavily doctored video was released.
But while Vilsack has some skeletons in his closet, the official nomination drew praise and congratulations from many agricultural organizations:
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture: “NASDA members are grateful to work with a leader who understands the value of state agriculture departments’ service as co-regulators with the federal government. Together, we can immediately address worker and food safety, expand trading markets and rural broadband, support our food supply chain system and invest in climate solutions — all priorities that must be upheld to ensure rural America has a strong recovery from the pandemic.”
Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative: “Edge stands ready to work with Mr. Vilsack and his future team to tackle existing and arising challenges facing today’s dairy farmers. From ag workforce shortages to expanding export opportunities for our products, he has a proven understanding of the issues our farmers care about.”
National Corn Growers Association: “In his eight years leading the Department during the Obama administration corn farmers appreciated his willingness to listen to the input from growers across the country and his steadfast commitment to agriculture, renewable fuels, our environment and USDA’s food and nutrition programs. He’s been an outspoken advocate for rural America and we look forward to working together again, along with President-elect Biden, to build long-term demand for our product, mitigate the impact of climate change, seek new markets around the globe, and continue to feed and fuel the world.”
National Association of Conservation Districts: “Secretary Vilsack has a proven track record of championing conservation at USDA and working with conservation districts in every part of the country. NACD looks forward to again working with him and his staff in the incoming administration to further voluntary, locally-led conservation.”
American Farmland Trust: “At a time when farmers are struggling in the face of a global pandemic, his experience will help USDA tackle these challenges on day one of the new administration. We especially look forward to working with him to advance farmland protection, provide farmers the tools to address climate change, create a more inclusive agricultural system, and widen the doors of participation to a new, diverse generation of producers.”