President-elect Joe Biden on Monday nominated Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Jewel Bronaugh as deputy secretary of USDA.
Bronaugh, who holds a doctorate in career and technical education from Virginia Tech University, brings to USDA an extensive career working with Extension programs and had served as a 4-H Extension specialist as well. If confirmed, Bronaugh would serve as Vilsack's second in command at USDA in the Biden administration. Bronaugh would also be the first Black woman to serve as USDA deputy secretary.
"She is passionate about the advancement of youth leadership in agriculture," the Biden transition team stated.
Bronaugh has served as commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services since May 2018, but had previously served as Virginia's state executive director for the USDA Farm Service Agency, appointed by then-USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2015. Before leading Virginia's FSA offices, Bronaugh was dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University (VSU) and oversaw extension, research and academic programs.
On Twitter, Bronaugh stated, "Thank you everyone for the well wishes. And, thank you @PresElectBiden for the opportunity to promote U.S. agriculture, helping to end hunger in the U.S. and abroad & preserving our Nation's natural resources. @transition46 @KamalaHarris"
Biden's transition team highlighted that Bronaugh launched the Virginia Farmer Stress Task Force with agricultural and health groups and agencies "to raise awareness and coordinate resources to address farmer stress and mental health challenges in Virginia." Last fall, Bronaugh also helped create the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund, a program to address food-access issues within historically marginalized communities, the transition team noted.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, congratulated Bronaugh on her nomination.
"Dr. Bronaugh's work as Virginia's Agriculture commissioner and her previous experience as state director of USDA's Farm Service Agency have established her as someone who understands the needs of America's farmers and ranchers," Duvall said. "We also appreciate the work she has done to address mental health issues in rural communities - a priority we hope she continues to pursue at the federal level."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, "Dr. Bronaugh's background in farm services, research, and extension will bring a breadth of knowledge and experience to the Department," Stabenow said. "As the first woman of color to serve in this position, she will be an important voice as the Biden Administration works to address the many challenges facing our farmers, families, and rural communities. I look forward to learning more about her plans and priorities during the confirmation process."
While some Biden nominees will have confirmation hearings Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee has not scheduled a hearing for Vilsack so far. Both Vilsack and Bronaugh will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Bronaugh was one of five women nominated by Biden on Monday to serve as deputies in Cabinet posts. Other deputy nominees were named for the departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Interior and Education.
Progressives had criticized Vilsack's nomination to return as USDA secretary and called for Biden to nominate a woman of color has his deputy. Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan noted on Twitter of Bronaugh's nomination, "Of the 15 major cabinet departments at start of Obama, I was one of only 2 female deputy secretaries, by law the COOs of the departments. Today Pres-elect Biden nominates 5 woman for deputy, including @VaAgComm Dr. Jewel Bronaugh for USDA. Oh happy #MLKDay!"
Bronaugh will replace Steve Censky as deputy secretary. Censky left USDA in November to return to his former job as CEO of the American Soybean Association.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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