Dear President-elect Trump:
As you and your transition team dig into the challenge of building your new administration, a new Secretary of Agriculture is probably not at the top of your priority list. You have a few thousand-odd senior positions to fill, including the secretaries of several other critical departments -- Treasury, State, Defense, Justice. The agriculture sector's issues are, thankfully, not as immediate or pressing as some of the others with which you must contend.
When you do get around to agriculture, you will likely hear conflicting views of the nation's agricultural situation. One faction will tell you the food and agriculture system is "broken" in ways that threaten both the environment and the public's health.
You shouldn't ignore these concerns; there's certainly room for improvement. You should, however, question whether a system that produces such an abundance of healthy, affordable food really poses a societal crisis. As a businessman, you will not be surprised that the market is already addressing some of this faction's fears, providing new food options -- organic fruit, antibiotic-free meat, to name but a couple -- for consumers concerned about health or the environment.
Another faction will tell you agriculture producers are having a hard time making ends meet. You definitely shouldn't dismiss this concern. Years of bounteous harvests have lowered commodity prices to below breakeven levels for many farmers and ranchers. Serious belt-tightening is the order of the day.
Still, you are not facing a replay of the 1980s, when farm bankruptcies and mortgage foreclosures were all too common. If and when that starts happening, you will hear about it from Congress, which if tradition holds, will be sending you emergency subsidy bills to sign.
Agriculture's challenges, in short, are manageable. Many of the candidates on your Secretary of Agriculture short list are capable of managing them well. I write to urge your consideration of a candidate who can do more than manage for you: former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture A.G. Kawamura.
You have stressed recently your desire to bring Americans together. Kawamura can help you bring Americans concerned about food and agriculture together. In a way that few other candidates can match, he represents all sides in the food and agriculture debate.
He is a serious commercial farmer, with 75 full-time employees and 1,000 acres of fruits and vegetables under cultivation.
He is an urban farmer. His 40 fields in Orange County, California, population 3 million, include vacant lots wedged between apartment buildings.
He is an organic farmer on some 30% of his fields and a conventional farmer on the rest.
He does not grow corn and soybeans or raise cattle or hogs, but he champions those who do. Over and over during the several days I spent with him reporting a profile of his business for Fortune magazine last year (http://tiny.cc/…), he repeated his mantra: "Anybody who grows food is good."
Like all farmers everywhere, overregulation is one of his big concerns. Like many farmers, he has a strong conservation ethic. He's convinced agriculture is part of the solution to environmental problems.
During his seven years as Arnold Schwarzenegger's agriculture secretary, Kawamura led a dialogue to create a "vision" for California agriculture that brought commercial and alternative agriculture people to the table. One activist told me Kawamura served as "a bridge between two worlds."
A long-time Republican, he is highly regarded by many Democrats as well. It's not hard to imagine that if your opponent had been elected president, Kawamura might have ended up on her list of candidates -- just as he should be on yours.
Like you, Mr. President-elect, Kawamura is a pragmatic, hard-nosed businessman and an "outsider." But he is an active participant in national ag-policy discussions. He also has a strong visionary streak. In a 20-minute local TEDx talk you can watch on YouTube, he speaks enthusiastically of efforts to grow food in buildings, in deserts and even under the oceans (http://tiny.cc/…).
A.G. Kawamura is passionate about feeding the world and optimistic technology can keep up with the planet's exploding population. His constructive outlook and inclusive ways would make him a credit to your administration. I hope you will consider him.
Urban C. Lehner
Vice President of Editorial, Emeritus
DTN/The Progressive Farmer
Editor's Note: DTN has had a number of stories, blogs and columns discussing the issue of who might be the next Secretary of Agriculture. We will continue to follow that process as news comes from the Trump transition team. The opinions in the above letter are those solely of the author. DTN/The Progressive Farmer does not endorse political candidates nor public appointees.
Urban Lehner can be reached at email@example.com