Ag Policy Blog

Torres Small Sworn in as USDA Deputy Secretary

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack swears in Xochitl Torres Small as Agriculture deputy secretary. Torres Small's husband, Nathan, is on her right and her parents are standing to her left. Other family members are behind her. (DTN photo by Jerry Hagstrom)

Xochitl Torres Small was sworn in Monday as USDA's deputy secretary, the first Latina named and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for that position as the No. 2 person at the department.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack swore in Torres Small at a ceremony in the patio of the Jamie Whitten headquarters building in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Senate voted last week to confirm Torres Small in an 84-8 vote.

Torres Small has been serving as Agriculture undersecretary for rural development. Earlier she served in the House as a Democratic representative from New Mexico. Torres Small replaces Jewel Bronaugh who left the department in April.

At the ceremony, Kevin Shea, who has been the acting deputy secretary, said it was wonderful to open such a "joyous occasion," and added that Torres Small has already brought joy to USDA in her role as undersecretary for rural development.

Before swearing her in, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that he started life in an orphanage and is Agriculture secretary and that Torres Small is the granddaughter of immigrant farm workers. "How great is this country?" Vilsack asked.

Vilsack also said that Torres Small has already proven she is willing to get into the nitty gritty "of governing."

In her acceptance remarks, Torres Small noted that one set of grandparents came to the United States to pick cotton and that her other grandfather was a minister. She said the story of her family is really a USDA story, starting with picking cotton and continuing to family members teaching the children of farm workers and helping manage a food bank.

Torres Small said she will be happy to get to work for the people in the people's department -- a phrase that Abraham Lincoln used to describe USDA when it was established in the 1860s. At that time, about half of all Americans lived on farms, compared with about 2% today.

"My mission is to serve the people of USDA every single day," Torres Small said. "I will support your unparalleled dedication and to make sure you have the tools to tackle the challenges."

The ceremony ended with a video from Rural Development state offices congratulating Torres Small. It was followed by a reception that featured biscochos, cookies from New Mexico made with lard as well as cake and chocolate chip cookies.

According to her official USDA biography, Torres Small is the granddaughter of farmworkers and grew up in the borderlands of New Mexico. She has worked as a field representative for then-Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a clerk for United States District Court Judge Robert Brack, and an attorney practicing water and natural resources law.

Torres Small has a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and an international baccalaureate from Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa. She is married to New Mexico State Rep. Nathan Small, a Democrat who represents the Las Cruces area.

Farm groups praised Torres Small's confirmation.

The National Farmers Union said it "welcomes the confirmation of Deputy Secretary Torres Small in her new role. Rural communities are stronger and more resilient because of the work she's done at Rural Development and in her time as a member of Congress representing New Mexico. Family farmers and ranchers have a champion in the deputy secretary."

The American Sugar Alliance said, "Throughout her career, Undersecretary Torres Small has been a champion for American farmers, workers, and rural communities -- including those supported by the U.S. sugar industry. We're confident in her ability to work with producers to increase U.S. agricultural productivity and strengthen domestic food security."

YouTube -- Video of swearing-in ceremony…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport


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