Groundhog Day: Vilsack appears again before Senate Ag Committee for confirmation

In a twist of irony, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appeared before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry for his confirmation hearing as the nominated secretary of agriculture on Feb. 2—Groundhog Day.

As he opened his remarks, Vilsack joked, “It’s not lost on me ironically that this is Groundhog Day, and I realize that I’m back again.” Vilsack served as secretary under former President Barack Obama and is President Joe Biden’s pick to return to the department.

The Senate Ag Committee unanimously advanced his nomination to the floor of the Senate in a rare showing of bipartisanship.

During his prepared remarks Vilsack emphasized the role the U.S. Department of Agriculture should play in pandemic recovery efforts for all Americans. He said the immediate priority would be getting food to Americans who suddenly found themselves needing food assistance due to loss of jobs and income from pandemic shut downs.

On the farmer side, Vilsack pledged to use USDA’s resources to build and maintain new markets for American ag products, both here and abroad. In regard to livestock market competitiveness, he said he would like USDA to explore how to incentivize alternative livestock processing facilities, so that if there’s a need to shut down one or two of the larger packing plants we don’t see havoc like that we saw in the early days of the pandemic and after the fire at the Tyson Fresh Foods plant near Holcomb, Kansas, in 2019.

Vilsack also pledged to invest resources into growing a renewable energy and bio-based manufacturing sector. And, with the new administration’s emphasis on climate change mitigation, Vilsack said USDA has a role to play in embracing and researching regenerative practices that enhance soil health.

But, he said, in all things farmers and ranchers must be incentivized to adopt these practices and be included in the process going forward. The full U.S. Senate will soon vote on Vilsack’s confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, where it will just require a simple majority.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].