Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey says the nation’s new ag secretary has a bit of a tightrope to walk. Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was sworn in as U.S. Ag Secretary this past week.
“He needs to be secretary of agriculture for the United States, not just Iowa,” Northey says, “and so he’ll have to be careful in making sure he does the things that he needs to do nationally.”
Northey, a Republican, was elected Iowa’s ag secretary in 2006 — just as Vilsack, a Democrat, was ending his tenure as governor. Northey’s a corn and soybean farmer in northwest Iowa, but Northey says Vilsack’s most important task as ag secretary may be boosting the renewable fuels industry, particularly ethanol producers who’ve fallen on tough times recently.
“What do we do in these infrastructure pieces?” Northey asks, rhetorically. “What do we do in rural economic development? And I think the governor was a leader in that.”
Northey says when natural disaster strikes the farm sector, Iowa should benefit from having Vilsack as ag secretary. “I look back at a time like this last summer where we had weather issues. We had issues around, certainly, agricultural production, crop insurance, other kinds of things. When there are times when you really need to get in touch with the ag secretary, he’s certainly going to answer the call,” Northey says.
“John Norris, his chief of staff, is very in tune with things here in agriculture.” Norris is a southwest Iowa native with a long history in Iowa politics and while he’s been chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board since 2005, Norris was in charge of rural policy development for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
Northey made his comments Friday during an appearance on Iowa Public Television.