A new adminstration in Washington, DC, means plenty of changes in the Beltway. One of the newcomers is Tom Vilsack, the incoming secretary of agriculture.
To find out more about what the nation’s ag industry can expect from this former governor of Iowa, CropLife® Group Editor Paul Schrimpf talked with Mona Bond, executive director for the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI), to get some perspective.
CropLife: What key issues in ag did Mr. Vilsack face during his tenure as governor? What about his approach to ag in the state provides clues as to how he will approach his new job?
Mona Bond: The Vilsack administration had to work with and address the confinement livestock issues during his tenure. When presented with a reasonable solution to the issue, he supported the bill that we are currently operating with. I anticipate he will continue to weigh all the facts and listen closely to his advisors.
CL: Describe any professional encounters the association had with the Vilsack administration that might provide insight into his leadership on ag issues.
Bond: AAI supports state regulation of the products that we sell, and we currently have state regulation of fertilizer, pesticides, and seed. Under Vilsack, we were successful in getting seed added to that list. He also spent time learning more about the opportunities that the biotech industry has for the future and its impact on Iowa. He chaired the governor’s biotech committee and received very favorable reviews and comments from the newly emerging industry during that time.
CL: How would you describe his leadership personality as a governor?
Bond: He is quick to make decisions. There were times when his patience wore thin and he made some hasty decisions he should have pondered longer.
CL: Did you find it interesting that President Obama mentioned leadership in adoption of biotechnology as a positive attribute among Mr. Vilsack’s credentials representing the state of Iowa?
Bond: No. As stated earlier, Iowa had a great opportunity to work with the ag biotech industry with several basic manufacturers based or with significant operations in Iowa. Iowa is the No. 1 corn state and also No. 1 in several other ag product areas. As governor, he understood the value of this technology to Iowa and the world to fight hunger.
CL: Do you have any concerns about the direction Mr. Vilsack could take USDA over the next four years, given the pressure that he will likely face from the environmental community?
Bond: My intuition tells me the Obama administration will be pragmatic and deliberate. I also believe that as secretary of ag, Gov. Vilsack will follow that lead. There are areas that the environmental community will focus on and push for policy changes, but in my opinion, great strides have been made in water quality and many other areas. The goal is to continue to feed Americans and export to the world. I believe he will keep that goal as his focus in the coming years.
As governor, Tom Vilsack surrounded himself with a staff that acted as strong gatekeepers. There were many comments from constituents that they could not get in to see him and/or to discuss policy.
As the secretary of ag, I hope he will allow himself to be accessible and open to meetings, discussion, and various points of view to better position agriculture to meet the growing needs for food around the world. I would encourage him to create focus groups of individuals from all facets of agriculture and stop to listen as he keeps his fingers on the pulse of the nation. I would encourage him to be pragmatic and realistic as the administration addresses the economic situation we are facing. I would ask him to put to the test each new regulation that the department makes with the question “will this regulation and/or policy aid in the economic recovery of America?”