PHOENIX — American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, a Georgia farmer, said here Sunday that he is neutral on who President-elect Donald Trump selects as Agriculture secretary, even though one of the leading candidates is former Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Duvall, who was elected Farm Bureau president at last year's meeting, did not raise the issue of the secretary in his first address to members. But at a news conference, Duvall said he is "not worried" by the fact that Trump has not yet announced an Agriculture secretary and is much later than recent administrations in making that selection.
"I have full faith of the new president picking the right person," Duvall said. "We think he has done a thorough review."
Asked what Farm Bureau will do if Trump selects a nominee who is not broadly knowledgeable about agriculture, Duvall said it will be Farm Bureau's job to get the nominee confirmed and then "educate" the new secretary, just as the organization has done with other new secretaries.
Duvall did note that he has known Perdue for some time.
"Sonny Perdue and I became friends when he became governor," Duvall said. The fact that Perdue is a veterinarian makes him a scientist, Duvall added.
Perdue "was very good with Georgia on trade and always good about promoting agricultural products," Duvall said.
But he concluded, "I can talk about Sonny because I had a personal relationship with him. That doesn't mean he is any better or worse than the other candidates."
Meanwhile, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and California farm groups have called on Trump to nominate former California Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado for secretary.
"A former lieutenant governor of California and current vineyard owner who spent his youth picking strawberries on his family's farm, Abel Maldonado has the skills and experience needed to ensure America's farming and agricultural industry is able to thrive in the coming years," the officials wrote in a letter to Trump.
They continued, "Lt. Gov. Maldonado and his family have worked in agriculture for three generations, ensuring his firm grasp of the unique and practical challenges facing the hardworking and dedicated farmers who comprise the cornerstone of America's modern-day agricultural economy.
"As an entrepreneur who worked diligently to expand his family's Santa Maria farm business from a half-acre to 6,000-acre enterprise with 250 employees, Lt. Gov. Maldonado knows firsthand how difficult it can be for America's farmers to navigate government regulation and oversight of the agricultural industry in this country."
Eight trade groups representing some of the California's most prominent agriculture interests -- including strawberry growers, dairies and pistachio farmers -- sent a letter Thursday to the Trump transition team, touting Maldonado's bona fides, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"California is the number one agriculture state in the nation producing over 400 commodities with worldwide distribution," the letter reads, according to the Times report. "Abel is one of the 78,000 California farmers that makes this happen every day."
Duvall acknowledged that "we are all very anxious" for Trump to announce a secretary, but said people have to trust the president-elect. Trump may not know a lot about agriculture, but Vice President-elect Mike Pence, as an Indiana governor, does know the sector, Duvall added.
Not all attendees were as patient, however. One attendee joked Sunday that the only way to know when an Agriculture secretary has been chosen is to watch for smoke to rise from Trump Tower, the same way that a smoke signal at the Vatican announces the selection of a pope.
Perhaps farm leaders should go to Trump Tower and "mill around" to try to force the issue and get the attention of the national press corps, one attendee said.
The pressure on Trump is also coming from Democrats. On Friday, Dan Glickman, who served as Agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, tweeted: "USDA Secretary urgently needs to be named by @realDonaldTrump -- It's critical for farmers, food safety, nutrition, forestry." From his Twitter account @DanRGlickman, he also gave the tweet the hashtag #trumpCabinet.
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