Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey.

Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture appeared before a U.S. Senate Committee this morning to discuss how he’d carry out the duties of a top official in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On September 1, President Trump nominated Bill Northey to be an undersecretary in the U.S.D.A.

“I will be an advocate within the administration for the producers in the countryside,” Northey said to conclude his prepared remarks to the committee.

AUDIO of Northey’s 6-minute opening statement.

Three members of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee pressed Northey to consider lifting the acreage limit in the Conservation Reserve Program.

“Obviously this committee and members of the House will spend a lot of time looking at what the next Farm Bill should have in it for funding and for a cap for CRP and that’s going to be an important conversation,” Northey said. “I look forward to being a part of that conversation.”

A senator from South Dakota asked Northey to consider relaxing USDA rules, so ground enrolled in the Conservation Reserve may be used more often as pasture for livestock. Northey didn’t commit to making changes.

“I would love to be able to work with you and your staff in understanding the needs of your producers,” Northey said, “but I would need to do some homework on that issue.”

The committee’s Republican chairman and the top Democrat on the panel urged Northey to protect crop insurance. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was first to ask about it during the hour-long hearing.

“Will you protect crop insurance from attacks like premium subsidy reductions, caps or adjusted gross income limits? How will you work to improve these risk management tools for producers across the country?” Roberts asked.

Northey replied: “I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman; the committee as well; members of the House to support the very important tool that crop insurance is.”

Roberts, who is the committee’s chairman, told Northey his “boots on the ground experience” as a farmer would be invaluable once he moves into a new role inside the federal government. Northey began his brief opening statement to the committee by emphasizing that his ancestors began farming in Iowa 150 years ago.

“I’m a corn and soybean farmer from northwest Iowa. My farming roots go back several generations on both sides of the family,” Northey said. “Cindy and I raised our three daughters on the farm my grandfather bought in the 1930s.”

Northey’s wife and one of his daughters sat behind him in the hearing room today. Northey publicly thanked them and the rest of his family “who are all sitting in front of their computers at home in Spirit Lake, intently watching this hearing.”

The hearing was livestreamed on the internet. Video of the event is posted here.

Northey, who is 57 years old, was first elected state ag secretary in 2006 and he won reelection in 2010 and 2014. His nomination to be Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation in the USDA. is subject to a confirmation vote in the senate. Senator Roberts didn’t offer up an exact date for that vote.

“We’re going to do that as expeditiously as we possibly can,” Roberts said. “Expeditious and Senate are perhaps an oxymoron.”

None of the senators on the committee offered any objections to Northey’s nomination.

AUDIO Northey and Gregory Ibach, another USDA nominee, answer senators’ questions, 32:00

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley introduced Northey to the committee, saying he was returning a favor to Northey’s family. Northey’s father served as an advisor to Grassley’s first campaign to the U.S. Senate 30 years ago when Grassley said he was not the choice of the “Republican establishment.”