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January 21, 2009   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
January 21, 2009

Vilsack confirmed as ag secretary.
Just hours after assuming office Tuesday, newly sworn President Barack Obama saw his selection of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who has vowed to not show favoritism toward the Midwest, said during the confirmation hearings that he would aggressively pursue new sources for ethanol, promote locally grown fruits and vegetables and seek ways to help farmers earn income in unconventional areas such as wind power and organic farming.

"As governor, Tom Vilsack was committed to better nutrition and providing food assistance to those who need it," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in a statement issued after Vilsack's confirmation. "He built a strong record in promoting renewable energy, rural economic opportunity, and conservation. These qualifications will serve him well as he transitions into Agriculture Secretary. Tom Vilsack's confirmation today signifies new leadership for the USDA, but also a new focus on the issues important to all Americans, including nutrition, conservation, energy and promoting the rural economy."

Vilsack's confirmation comes amid a struggling farm economy and strong criticism over farm subsidy programs. Obama backs tighter subsidy rules on who qualifies as a farmer, and supports a $250,000 "hard cap" on farm payments. He once cited farm payments as one area where the United States could save $100 million a year.

Ironically, the 58-year-old Vilsack has been receiving payments since 2000 for acreage he owns that is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. Vilsack, in a Jan. 8 letter to USDA ethics officials, said he would seek a waiver to continue receiving CRP payments while he is secretary. Otherwise, experts said, he would have to break his contract and reimburse the USDA for all previous payments he has received, which would total nearly $60,000.

Obama has also said he supports strict regulation of pollution from large-scale feedlots, a ban on meatpackers competing with U.S. farmers and country of origin labeling.

Even before Vilsack's confirmation, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman praised the one-time presidential candidate as "a strong proponent of international trade and expanding our export markets."

"His understanding and experience with many of the pressing issues facing agriculture today will serve him well in his new position," Stallman said.

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