Ag Policy Blog

No New Ag Secretary, But Vilsack May Have a New Job

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

Heading into Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump has still not announced an Agriculture secretary.

A little bit of research by DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton and FERN's Chuck Abbott concluded that this is the longest stretch an incoming president has taken to choose an Agriculture secretary going back to Franklin Roosevelt selecting Henry Wallace for the job in 1933. (At that time, however, the president and incoming administration did not take office until March, not January.)

Late Wednesday, Politico said two sources said Trump had settled on former Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue for Agriculture secretary.

A Trump transition spokesman said Trump is still looking for the “most qualified” candidate for Agriculture secretary. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the selection process is “still fluid,” Politico reported.

Sources close to Trump told CNN that former California Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is being considered because, as a vineyard owner, he is considered a farmer. Members of the Trump agriculture advisory committee and other lobbyists continue to express concerns about the possibility that Maldonado may get the position. One advisory committee member said his California contacts had described Maldonado as “a lightweight,” while another lobbyist noted that Maldonado “supported” HSUS [the Humane Society of the United States] in the fight over the housing for egg-laying chickens in California.

“Is there any group that brings all of agriculture together more than a dislike and mistrust of HSUS?” the lobbyist asked.

Maldonado, however, was posting videos Wednesday on his Twitter feed of him working on his California farm preparing the soil and planting beds for his vineyard. @abelmaldonado

Meanwhile, current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is reportedly taking a job. Agri-Pulse reported Vilsack will become president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council when he leaves office. USDA declined to confirm whether Vilsack will be taking the position.

“The secretary is not going to comment on his future plans to any outlets until he leaves USDA. He will be focused on his job here until his last day,” Hillary Caron, a USDA senior adviser for strategic communications, told The Hagstrom Report in an email.

On Wednesday, USDDEC published a blog post on its expectations for the export dairy market in 2017. http://blog.usdec.org/…

While the Ag secretary remains open, the Trump transition team this week added two volunteers to the USDA “landing team” – Russell Laird, vice president for federal relations at National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., and Lance Kotschwar, chief ethics & compliance officer and vice president for government and industry affairs at The Gavilon Group, LLC, a Nebraska commodity-trading firm.

Both Laird and Kotschwar have Capitol Hill experience. Laird worked for the House Agriculture Committee and for former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas. He has also been executive director of the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference; president of PRT Marketing LLC, which developed the market for cotton technology; and director of external affairs for Altria/Kraft Foods.

Kotschwar was chief counsel for the House Agriculture Committee and general counsel for the Senate Agriculture committee before going to work for Gavilon in Omaha. He also was general counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

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