USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a second time as agriculture secretary in February. Christian Richter, principal at The Policy Group, said Vilsack is focusing on "how to translate abstract goals into practical things that are working on the ground." (Photo: Joseph L Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

The road ahead in 2021

May 6, 2021 | Joseph Hopper

Under President Joe Biden’s new agenda, America will be changing. How much and how fast remains a source of anxiety for some American farmers, reflected in the polling held during the Animal Ag Alliance’s 2021 Virtual Stakeholders’ Summit pre-conference webinar: A Changing View from Washington & Statehouses Around the Country.

Panelist Christian Richter, principal at The Policy Group, focused on federal trends and current attitudes facing agriculture. He said agriculture will be part of discussions going forward at key departments like the Environmental Protection Agency, whose leaders are familiar faces in the ag community.

 “Agriculture has a good story to tell, and it needs to be told,” says Richter.

EPA leadership:

  • Michael Regan, Administrator
  • Janet McCabe, Deputy Administrator
  • Radhika Fox, Water Chief
  • TBD, Agriculture Advisor

Emerging issues at the EPA:

  • Reversing rollbacks on climate regulations, targeting power and auto sectors
  • Draft emission models for farms
  • Environmental justice, focus on disadvantaged communities
  • Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), also called forever chemicals

Highlighting the prominence of climate issues, Richter says there are currently nine staff with titles featuring the word climate in today’s administration. The Obama administration had five. The panelists also shed light on what else is or isn’t top of mind in the Biden administration.

Nick Giordano, vice president and counsel of global government and affairs for the National Pork Producers Council says the Biden administration’s renewed attention on immigration reform is a welcome development for farmers as current visa programs are failing the workforce needs of hog farmers and other year-round producers.

“Agriculture is suffering from a serious labor shortage which is negatively impacting the entire supply chain from farms to harvest facilities,” says Giordano.

There’s less discussion about taxes and regulation, Richter says. “You didn’t hear regulation once in the president’s (first joint address to Congress). What we’re seeing is this focus on No. 1, of course, being aggressive. There’s an urgency to the discussion now.

“USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack, to his credit is talking about how, not why, we’re doing this or what the big vision is but how to translate abstract goals into practical things that are working on the ground,” Richter continues. “His theme he’s been saying over and over again is if we’re going to build some architecture that’s new and meaningful for carbon markets it has to be focused on benefiting farmers.”

Vilsack highlighted his priorities during a Commodity Classic presentation in March. Read about that here.