Senate confirms Vilsack for second tenure at USDA

Tom Vilsack was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a second time as agriculture secretary earlier this week. His confirmation will build on the years of service leading the USDA from 2009 to 2017. (Photo: Joseph L Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

ISA welcomes Vilsack to top U.S. ag position

February 25, 2021 | Bethany Baratta

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Tom Vilsack’s nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a 92-7 vote. A former Mt. Pleasant mayor, Vilsack served as Ag Secretary from 2009 to 2017 after serving as Iowa’s 40th governor from 1999 to 2007.

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) directors say they look forward to working with Vilsack in several areas.

“Serving as a steady and reasoned advocate during the eight years he previously served as Ag Secretary, the former Mt. Pleasant mayor’s approval comes at an important time for U.S. agriculture and Iowa farmers,” said ISA President Jeff Jorgenson. “Building domestic and international demand for U.S. soy, promoting open, fair and competitive trade, and recognizing the leadership role that Iowa farmers play in improving air and water quality will all be center-of-the-plate.”

Jorgenson said he looks forward to working with Vilsack and his team at USDA in key priority areas, including:  

  • Continuing support for Iowa farmers recovering from lackluster trade, historic weather and climate-related events, and pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions;
  • Exploring and expanding market-based opportunities for Iowa soybean farmers
  • Ensuring the Environmental Protection Agency administers the Renewable Fuel Standard according to congressional intent;
  • Promoting reliable, competitive and cost-effective agriculture infrastructure;
  • Developing and implementing programs to deliver long-term funding for farmer-led conservation efforts that enhance soil health and water quality producing ecosystem outcomes, and;
  • Improving Iowa’s competitive advantage by deploying broadband access in rural communities.

Along with focusing on priorities the soybean industry and others within agriculture have set forth, Vilsack will also be tasked with various directives important to President Joe Biden and his administration, notes ISA District 2 Director April Hemmes.

“Not only will Vilsack have to focus on renewable fuels and issues we care about here, but also issues from outside of agriculture that have come into play,” Hemmes said. “That’s going to be something new for him I think.”

One example is climate change, which President Biden has set as a priority of his administration. Though agriculture is one piece of the climate change conversation, Hemmes said the industry can work to be a part of the conversations and solutions.

Hemmes noted recent webinars she’s watched talking about regenerative agriculture, or the idea of rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring soil biodiversity and therefore sequestering carbon and improving water quality.

“What they’re explaining, we’ve been doing for 20 years on my farm,” says Hemmes, who has also served as a county soil and water commissioner for more than 20 years and serves on the board of her local Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency.  

A new administration provides opportunities for farmers to share their farm stories and for associations like ISA to reach a broader audience, Hemmes says.

“Many farmers are doing what you want us to do. The word just isn’t getting out there that we are doing a lot of things, and we need to do a better job of doing that.”

Katie James contributed to this story.

Contact Bethany Baratta at