Farm leaders from both sides of the political spectrum in Iowa are applauding President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to nominate former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the next U.S. Agriculture Secretary.
Farm Bureau president Craig Lang says he talked privately with Vilsack about the post.
“I think that we have an individual who’s been tested, that will show good leadership for agriculture and our ability to produce food and energy for a growing world population,” Lang says, “and I think it’s the right time to have Governor Vilsack there.”
Iowa Farmers Union president Christ Peterson of Clear Lake also talked privately with Vilsack a couple of weeks ago about taking the job.
“At the Iowa Farmers Union we feel very comfortable with this and I think every farmer and every person in Iowa should,” Peterson says. “This kind of rounds (things) out. We’ve got the secretary of ag. We’ve got Harkin in the senate. We’ve got Grassley in the senate and I think Iowa’s going to have a lot to say about farm policy and family farm policy.”
Peterson cites some of Vilsack’s work as a trial lawyer as proper preparation for the top job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“You know, he understands agriculture,” Peterson says. “There’s not any bigger supporter of family farmers than him from the work he (did) in the ’80s defending farmers in chapter 11 bankruptcies.” The Farm Bureau’s Lang, who farms near Brooklyn, Iowa, envisions Vilsack having a lead role in drafting new U.S. energy policy that’s based on greater production of “green, renewable fuel” like corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel.
“Even though it may be more expensive, it’s still — in the long run — a great investment for an alternative liquid fuel and we have to have that to balance our surplus, the trade deficit, to balance the economy and bring things back so that we grow things locally…on farm and ranch country,” Lang says, “And after these things happen, I think our economy will start to stabilize.”
While Vilsack grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and moved to his wife’s hometown of Mount Pleasant to practice law with his father-in-law, Lang says Vilsack understands enough about modern agriculture to be lead the U-S-D-A. “I’m not concerned about that,” Lang says. “I really think that that’s something that Tom and I kid about rather than having it as a concern.”
Lang jokes that Vilsack’s never had the experience of changing the filter on a tractor or thawing out the livestock watering tank when the temperature is five below zero. “The truth of it is I think he’s heard those stories,” Lang says. “He understands those stories. He understand that necessity of agriculture.” The president of the Iowa Farmers Union says the next step is to find out who will join Vilsack in some of the top appointed positions within the ag department.
“My concern is of who is going to surround himself with,” Peterson says, “and, you know, who he’s going to take advice from.” As governor, Vilsack appointed Lang — the president of the Farm Bureau — to lead a key state board which handed out “Vision Iowa” grants to finance community-based attractions like new sports arenas in Council Bluffs and Des Moines and the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque.