Thursday, December 05, 2019

Former agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack scrutinized for big salary from farmer-funded dairy promotion group

Tom Vilsack
Former Iowa governor and Obama agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack received just shy of $1 million in 2018 for his role as executive vice president of government trade group Dairy Management Inc., prompting complaints from struggling dairy farmers and industry advocates, Cary Spivak reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Vilsack, a Democrat who recently endorsed Joe Biden for president, joined the group in February 2017. He is president and CEO of one of its subsidiaries, the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Federal law requires farmers to fund Dairy Management or other checkoff programs created to research and promote commodities. "The idea is that by banding together, farmers — including many small, family-run operations — will get more for their marketing buck," Spivak reports. But "farms must pay into the program even if they are operating at a loss — and dairy farmers pay a larger share than do other types of farmers."

There are more than 20 agriculture checkoff programs. "Last year, the programs collected a combined $895 million to promote the various commodities. Of that, more than $420 million — 47% — came from dairy producers," Spivak reports. "Dairy farmers must pay 15 cents per hundred pounds of milk sold into the checkoff program. Ten cents goes to state and regional marketing programs, such as the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. A nickel goes to national programs, such as Dairy Management. All told, Dairy Management received $159.7 million from the checkoff program last year, up from $155 million in 2017, the new records show."

The newly revealed records show that Vilsack and other Dairy Management executives were paid more than their counterparts in other farm programs and at similarly sized nonprofits. Six Dairy Management executives, including Vilsack, were paid more than $500,000 last year, Spivak reports.

"Two bipartisan bills aimed at reforming the checkoff programs are pending in Congress," Spivak reports. "One calls for making checkoff payments voluntary. A second would require groups receiving checkoff money to provide more transparency in their financial dealings."

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