Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trump still has yet to name USDA head, leading to concern that agriculture is not a high priority

President-elect Donald Trump's lack of decision on an agriculture secretary—the only Cabinet position he has not named—"has become a case study in the difficulty Trump will face as he begins to govern, as his sweeping promises and catchy slogans run up against competing interests," Molly Ball reports for The Atlantic. "The pick has become mired in politics and drama, unsettling the agriculture industry and potentially imperiling Trump’s standing with some of his most ardent supporters—the residents of rural America."

Some Trump supporters say he "owes a debt to rural voters, from among whom he drew his strongest support in the election," Ball writes. "They are not the only ones affected by agricultural policy, of course—everybody eats, and more than 40 million low-income Americans rely on the food stamps the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers. But agriculture, from family farmers to big agribusiness, looms especially large in the landscape, economy, and culture of rural areas."

More than two weeks ago, news outlets reported that Trump was set to pick former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead USDA, Ball writes. "Perdue is well regarded in agriculture circles. A former veterinarian who grew up on a farm and owns agribusiness holdings, Perdue is an immigration hawk who once led lawmakers in a prayer for rain during a drought. But Perdue has not been announced for the post, and Trump has continued to receive a parade of other contenders."

Trump's indecision "has given rise to charges that agriculture is not a high priority for the incoming president," Gary Pruitt writes for Hoosier Ag Today. "While this may or may not be true, the fact that this was the last cabinet post to be filled has raised concerns and will produce some challenges for the new nominee."

"In an off the record conversation I had with someone I will classify as a Washington insider, the claim was made that there are those within the president-elect’s team that see agriculture as 'second tier'," Pruitt writes. "Thus, picking a new ag secretary is not a top priority. Yet, what administration recently has made agriculture a top priority?"

"Whenever the choice is made and whomever is picked, that person will need to grab the bull by the horns," Pruitt writes. "American farmers and the agriculture industry in general need a strong voice at USDA—a voice that can articulate the needs and concerns of agriculture both within the administration and without. One of the reasons farmers and rural Americans voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump is because they felt their voice was not being heard in Washington. The next ag secretary needs to solve that problem."

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