What is old is new again, as former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is headed back to the post he held for eight years under the Obama administration.
The Biden-Harris transition team formally announced the former ag secretary and Iowa governor’s nomination to the agriculture position in cabinet on Thursday.
Former Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz worked with Vilsack on many issues and has praise for the former secretary when asked about his re-appointment.
“Tom was always very personable, pragmatic and extremely political,” Ritz tells RealAgriculture. “We were always able to discuss the most troubling issues like COOL and still remain friends.”
Ritz also recalls working together as allies on trade issues with other countries.
“He and I worked well together on the world stage on issues of trade with the Koreans, Japanese and Chinese, and science-based answers to European stances on pesticides and crop treatments.”
Although a familiar name, Vilsack was admittedly not on many lists of possible candidates being considered for the position.
Beyond the obvious familiarity Biden has with Vilsack, the signals for why the president-elect is tapping Vilsack for the role are still littered with speculation, but one Washington farm policy insider tells RealAgriculture that “Vilsack will look to build consensus, he is good at that.”
Although Midwest-focused farm groups will be comfortable with Vilsack’s support of biofuels, environmental and the more left-leaning Democrat voices are not satisfied with the choice, as they’re pushing for reform to the USDA.
A Friends of the Earth spokesperson told Axios that they were “deeply disappointed” with the choice because Vilsack was “an agribusiness lobbyist with a tarnished record on civil rights, consolidation, and the environment.”
Since his last tenure at USDA, Vilsack has been the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. He played a prominent role in the USMCA negotiations where the U.S. gained increased access into the Canadian market. Vilsack and the council also lobbied U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to challenge Canada over how it has implemented dairy market access under the USMCA, action which was officially launched this week.