Vilsack Has Leg Up on Second Term

DC Dialogue

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's second term at USDA will need to continue education efforts with those outside of agriculture.

Published on: January 18, 2013

Monday assumptions were settled when President Barack Obama confirmed that he had asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to stay on as his agricultural secretary for his second term.

Vilsack, who will be the first ag secretary in over a generation to serve two consecutive terms, has come into his own over the past four years. He has forged many important alliances to dance the fine line between the diversified agricultural industry as well as helping make sure agriculture's at the table for other key discussions whether it is the economy or oncoming regulations.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is one of President Obamas few cabinet members asked to stay on for his second term.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is one of President Obama's few cabinet members asked to stay on for his second term.

Vilsack will have his work cut out for him as he deals with a significant change over in cabinet and leading government officials in Obama's second term. He does have a leg up on how things work as well as what has worked in the past as Vilsack continues his work at the ag agency.

Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted that Vilsack receives "great marks for attempting to help agriculture, especially with the EPA." She added he wasn't always successful, but at least gave others a better viewpoint of how things may impact agriculture.

Thatcher and many in agriculture fear environmental regulations in the next two years could be very damaging for agriculture and small businesses and if work doesn't prevail on laws, the industry will be forced to spend an enormous amount of time and money in the court system on environmental issues.

While speaking to the attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation Vilsack challenged those there to build on strategic alliances, extend the reach of key farm groups and participate in constructive engagement.

"It will be necessary for us to continue what we started the last several years of constructively engaging those where we may have questions or difficulties," he said.

He highlighted several situations where he's tried to tell agriculture's story or the impact, ranging from helping engaging with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson or inviting top officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for a symposium to help explain the innovation going on in agriculture today.   

Vilsack took aim at criticism directed at those engaged in constructive engagement, saying egg producers shouldn't be faulted for working with the Humane Society. "Egg producers thought it was in their best interest to avoid 50 different referendums, 50 different set of rules, so they sat down with folks and they reached common ground. After all, isn't that what we're asking our Congress to do?"

Vilsack recognized that issues may be different for different types of producers, but egg producers have the right idea, he said. "We need to be constructively engaged at all times in conversations. We may not find agreements, but I think we will substantially reduce those who oppose farming and substantially reduce the reach of those."

He noted HSUS may not have many friends among agriculture, but people need to still stay engaged in the conversation and build alliances. At risk is agriculture staying relative in a changing world.

Vilsack concluded that he gets frustrated when agriculture doesn't get its due. "But I've got a feeling that we're beginning to turn the corner. I've got a feeling that 2013 is going to be the year where people begin to pay a lot of attention to what takes place in Rural America."

Here's hoping his prediction comes true.