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Career NRCS official nominated as USDA undersecretary

Dr. Homer Wilkes instrumental in restoring health of Gulf Coast after oil spill.

Jacqui Fatka

June 28, 2021

2 Min Read
front of USDA building
UNDERSECRETARIES CONTINUE DIVERSITY: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack continues to fill his undersecretaries with a diverse set of nominees from across the country with naming of Dr. Holmes Wilkes, a career NRCS staffer, to serve as the undersecretary of natural resources. USDA

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack continues to fill out his potential undersecretary roster with diverse nominees with the latest nomination of Dr. Homer Wilkes for the post of undersecretary for natural resources and environment.

HomerWilkes.jpg“Dr. Homer Wilkes has dedicated his career to public service; he has put his time and talents to work with USDA for more than 41 years. His nomination reflects USDA’s commitment to putting agriculture, forestry and working lands at the center of solutions to increase climate resilience, sequester carbon, protect our air and water,” says Vilsack in a statement.  

Related: Bonnie selected to serve as USDA undersecretary

While with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Wilkes played a key role in directing engineering, natural resource and watershed projects and took a keen interest in forestry and working lands, Vilsack says. He currently serves as the director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Division since 2013, where he has been integral to restoring the health of the Gulf Coast ecosystem after the BP Oil Spill of 2010.

He also previously served as acting associate chief at USDA-NRCS from 2010 until 2013 and as the state conservationist in Mississippi for 16 years from 1994 to 2010.

Wilkes holds his Bachelors, Master of Business Administration and Ph.D. in urban conservation planning and higher education from Jackson State University in Jackson, MIss.

Related: USDA rural development undersecretary nominated

Vilsack adds Wilkes is a collaborative leader with a track record of working towards large-scale solutions in partnership with communities.

“This spirit and approach position Dr. Wilkes to ensure that even with different leadership within the USDA subcabinet there is connectivity between NRCS and the Forest Service; I am confident that Dr. Wilkes is the right person to ensure landscape-scale solutions are aligned with community priorities, assets and needs,” Vilsack explains.

Related: California organic farmer nominated as USDA undersecretary

Vilsack has nominated a total of three of the potential eight undersecretary positions, as well as the Deputy Undersecretary Jewel Bronoaugh who was confirmed by the full Senate in mid-May by a voice vote.

Additional nominees include current USDA deputy chief of staff and senior climate adviser Robert Bonnie for farm production and conservation undersecretary, Xochitl Torres Small to serve as the rural development undersecretary and Jenny Lester Moffitt for the position of marketing and regulatory programs undersecretary.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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