Is anywhere an Agriculture Secretary to be found?

Ag is getting impatient with Trump’s dawdling on naming an Ag Secretary. Who are the potential candidates?

January 3, 2017

4 Min Read
Is anywhere an Agriculture Secretary to be found?
Amanda Radke

Ag folks, from some who serve on Trump’s Ag Advisory Committee to the ranchers in the countryside, are getting impatient with the lack of an Agriculture Secretary nominee from President-Elect Donald Trump.

Personally, I’m OK with Trump and his team getting it right. Don’t rush. After all, I’ve no quibble that cabinet positions like Defense, State, Treasury and Attorney General are primary. They are more likely to shake international political, diplomatic and economic seismographs.  

But while we view USDA as sometimes friendly, sometimes an adversary, it is also true we are the tail struggling to wag the dog over there. Steve Kopperud, a long-time industry observer, put it well on “Agriculture is not only the food production chain, it is a positive in the balance of trade, it is food safety and the responsible use of technology, assistance to the needy and malnourished, ag is basic science and research.”  

I would add that USDA also means dietary guidelines for the whole human population, serious rural community issues and farmers and ranchers as caretakers for all that beautiful scenery our citizens enjoy and expect farmers and ranchers to maintain.

So finding someone with up-to-date human nutrition knowledge, someone able to run nutrition and welfare programs, the ability to manage a huge bureaucracy and knowledge of agriculture from crop and animal production to advanced science and technology to ag labor problems is difficult.

Lots of names have been floating since the election but a few bear more attention than the rest. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was scheduled to meet with transition team members at Mar-A Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. on Friday, Dec. 30.  Miller is on the Agriculture Advisory Committee, so he was expected to consult with the team on general ag issues, but most indications are that he is still being considered for ag secretary. While Miller is considered politically conservative and has eighth-generation roots in Texas agriculture, he has not always seen eye-to-eye with cattlemen on certain issues.

It has also been noted that transition team officials were scheduled to meet last week with Elsa Murano.  Animal agriculture gave her high marks when she was undersecretary of agriculture for food safety under President Bush. She has served as Texas A&M president and is presently a professor at A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Besides her experience and background, Murano carries political advantages, being female and Hispanic, that the Trump administration might consider advantageous.

Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence in Washington in recent days. I first met Combs several years ago at the Western Conservative Summit.  Combs gave a presentation on beating the environmental groups at their game of submitting wholesale slates of hundreds of species to the endangered species list.  

Most of the species are little-known to all but a few biological specialists and whatever “data” the environmental groups submitted tended to be all that was presented. Combs pioneered a technique in Texas wherein ag, energy and sportsmens’ groups judged the species likely to be used as tools of obstruction and then preemptively gathered and funded the research necessary to fight off listings based on meager, biased “data” from environmental groups.

On the negative side, Combs championed measures to remove certain foods, like fried foods, soda and sweets, from public schools, according to Politico.

We’re guessing there is only one purebred breeder website home page that, under the obligatory headline and the revolving pictures of bulls, auctions, family and calves, features a big photo of President-Elect Donald Trump, giving a thumbs up with the owner of the ranch. But pull up Herbster Angus Farms website, and there is the Donald with Charles Herbster.  

Herbster has been chairman of Trump’s National Advisory of the Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee. Herbster checks off a lot of the boxes to be nominated for ag secretary himself: he was an early Trump supporter from ag; he owns and runs ranching and farming operations; he owns a long-time ag manufacturing and distribution firm (Conklin), owns a bull stud in Virginia and has been a major Republican and Trump financial contributor.

So ag waits and rumors continue to circulate. It’s time for Trump to name a Secretary of Agriculture.

Steve Dittmer is a longtime industry commentator and principal of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation.

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