President-elect Barack Obama will announce today that he has selected former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to be his Secretary of Agriculture:
Obama supports a $250,000 a year “hard” cap on farm payments and stricter rules on who qualifies as a farmer, changes that could save $100 million a year. Last month, he cited a congressional report on improper farm payments as an example of where to save federal money.
If confirmed by the Senate, Vilsack, 58, would be the first Iowan to lead the Agriculture Department since Henry Wallace during the Depression era.
Critics said Vilsack is too much of a supporter of agricultural biotechnology and not enough of a friend to organic or sustainable farmers.
The National Farmers Union said Vilsack was “a great choice” who understands the threat to farmers from U.S. recession and the potential income from renewable energy.
On his website for the presidential transition, Obama says he would “ensure that our rural areas continue their leadership in the renewable fuels movement.” Corn-based ethanol is the major biofuel now produced. The next generation of fuels is expected to use feedstocks like wood chips and grasses, reducing “food vs. fuel” friction.
Obama also supports strict regulation of pollution from large-scale feedlots, a ban on meatpackers raising livestock in competition with farmers and country-of-origin labels on U.S. food “so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.”
Vilsack is a good choice. His rocky record on organic and sustainable farming is a cause for concern, since we need to move away from big , environmentally-unfriendly agribusiness and back toward a system of smaller farms with sustainable, higher-quality products, but I have confidence that he’ll faithfully carry out Obama’s agenda.
Since Vilsack (briefly) competed in the 2008 primary, this brings the number of former Obama rivals in the administration up to four (Biden, Clinton, Richardson and Vilsack).
The only drawback to the appointment is that Vilsack won’t be able to compete against Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley in 2010; preliminary polling showed Vilsack within 4 points of the 28-year Senate veteran.