The full Senate easily confirmed the nomination of Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture and lead the USDA under the Biden administration. The bipartisan vote of 92-7 reflected a similar broad bipartisan support across party lines seen during his nomination hearing held Feb. 2.
Upon confirmation, Vilsack released a statement noting he is grateful to serve in the Biden-Harris administration and thanked the Senate for their show of support.
“I look forward to leading the talented, dedicated team at the Department of Agriculture. We’re going to be a USDA that represents and serves all Americans,” Vilsack said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to contain the pandemic, transform America’s food system, create fairer markets for producers, ensure equity and root out systemic barriers, develop new income opportunities with climate smart practices, increase access to healthy and nutritious food, and make historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy in rural America. I am optimistic about the future and believe our brightest days are ahead.”
In response to the confirmation, FMI-The Food Industry Association released a statement, saying, “Secretary Vilsack’s experience and vision for meeting the substantial current challenges of food and agriculture is why we applaud his confirmation by the U.S. Senate today. The Secretary understands and embraces USDA’s mission to advance U.S. food and agriculture. We look forward to working with USDA, Secretary Vilsack and the Biden Administration on protecting food and nutrition, enhancing food safety, and mitigating food waste challenges.”
United Fresh Produce Association president and CEO Tom Stenzel also expressed his support for the new USDA Secretary.
“I want to Congratulate Secretary Vilsack on his confirmation to once again lead USDA after a resounding bipartisan vote in the Senate. Secretary Vilsack has long been a friend of the fresh produce industry,” said Stenzel. “On issues ranging from food and nutrition security to labor challenges in agriculture, Secretary Vilsack has shown commitment to finding positive solutions. We are particularly looking forward to working with Secretary Vilsack on a new Food Box program, which has proved to be a critical step in providing healthy fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need, while supporting small farms and distributors around the country.”
While speaking on the floor ahead of the vote, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said she’s confident in the job Vilsack would do in returning to the department to “embrace new ideas in a new era.”
She said Vilsack has a lot of work to be done to rebuild the USDA workforce so the department can fulfill its important missions. “Farmers need strong effective leadership now more than ever,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow noted Vilsack is very focused on tackling the climate crisis and has done work since leaving USDA to focus on voluntary, producer-led efforts to make a difference in mitigating climate.
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark., said Vilsack has an “excellent reputation of putting rural America at the top of his agenda.” He trusts that as secretary, Vilsack will work with Congress as it tackles new and existing challenges.
Boozman also said he looks forward to Vilsack’s return in the future weeks to the Senate Ag Committee in offering a more in-depth look at how he hopes to lead the USDA to provide a clearer picture of his priorities.
“Secretary Vilsack has a track record of working with Congress, and today’s strong bipartisan vote expresses the Senate’s confidence that he will continue that approach moving forward. Congress and the administration must work together to address the many pressing matters facing the ag community and rural America, particularly the need to provide swift relief to those affected by the ongoing pandemic. Building a good relationship with Secretary Vilsack will help us achieve our mutual goals while ensuring that the needs of farmers and ranchers are always at the forefront of USDA’s agenda,” Boozman said in a statement following the vote.
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President and CEO Chuck Conner, who also served as the deputy secretary of agriculture during the George W. Bush administration, says that Vilsack is a true champion of America’s farmers and ranchers and Vilsack’s work experience and understanding of the department means he can hit the ground running at this critical time.
“Indeed, the secretary will arrive at the U.S. Department of Agriculture facing a series of pressing challenges,” Conner said. “In the face of the pandemic and its economic fallout, Secretary Vilsack will need to lead USDA in helping agriculture and rural America to build back more resilient and more equitably than it was before,” Conner said.
This article originally appeared on Feedstuffs, a Supermarket News sister website.