DECEMBER 9 UPDATE: Tom Vilsack is the selection for Secretary of Agriculture by President-elect Biden

While there is a good amount of turnover in leadership of the agriculture committees in Congress, the agriculture industry as a whole also has its attention focused on a critically important appointment by President-elect Joe Biden – secretary of agriculture.

During the December 2 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream, dairy leaders tried to unpack the impacts of both expected candidates for the position – Ohio’s Marcia Fudge and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

“Marcia Fudge, a seven-term congresswoman from the Cleveland, Ohio, area, who is a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, is one name that is being considered. Then also, Heidi Heitkamp. She is a former senator from North Dakota, who served as attorney general before she was a one-term senator from North Dakota,” outlined the International Dairy Foods Association’s (IDFA) Dave Carlin.

While Heitkamp is generally supported by traditional food and agricultural interests, Fudge is largely supported by the food and nutrition community. As secretary of agriculture, the president-elect’s appointee would have a major say in how both of these areas are executed. Even if Fudge is selected over Heitkamp, Cornell’s Andy Novakovic believes she will be willing to work closely with agriculture interests to find solutions.

“Fudge may have a personal interest in nutrition – she’s been the chair of the subcommittee that deals with nutrition – but she’s been immersed in at least the political world of agriculture for as long as she’s been on the ag committee, and Ohio is a substantial agricultural state,” the longtime economist explained. “Her passion may be nutrition, but she has been immersed in agriculture, understands politics, and has some familiarity with the programs, so it’s not a clean slate for her.”

Change is likely

While that may be true, dairy organizations will have a few key initiatives to pay special attention to if the congresswoman from Cleveland, Ohio, is selected to lead USDA.

“We should be paying very close attention to nutrition issues at the department, particularly if Marcia Fudge is the new secretary, because one of the things we have been able to achieve during the last administration was a return to having 1% flavored milk served in schools,” detailed Carlin. “We’re hopeful that the new administration will not go backward on that issue, but if Marcia Fudge is the secretary, that’s something we’re going to have to pay closer attention to perhaps than if Heidi Heitkamp is in that chair.”

On the flip side, Congresswoman Fudge as Secretary of Agriculture could lend support to a fledgling program that was instituted in the previous farm bill. That is a program that works through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to provide additional incentives to select fluid milk at the grocery store.

“One of the things that we’re working on as an association is to develop pilot programs in grocery stores that show what we might do to encourage people to buy more fluid milk in the SNAP program,” he elaborated. “In particular, maybe coupons like the fruit and vegetable folks have used successfully for the past 10 years or so where if you buy a gallon of milk in your grocery store you get a coupon on your way out the door to get a free gallon of milk when you come back the next time.

“We hope the new administration is going to pay particular attention to getting that program really established so that we can go national with that in the next farm bill because we think that will really help fluid milk as well,” Carlin concluded.

In general, he anticipates more attention will be given to SNAP programming if Congresswoman Fudge is selected.

“You know I don’t know that these food boxes are going to continue in the Biden administration – I doubt that they will,” said Carlin. “What I would expect instead is that there will be more attention paid to increasing the amount of SNAP benefits available to families that participate in those programs both at the minimum level and the maximum level. That, in turn, can provide some opportunities for industry in terms of consumption.”

An ongoing series of events

DairyLivestream will air twice each month for the remainder of this year. The next broadcast will be next week on Wednesday, December 9. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2020
December 7, 2020

Maggie Seiler

The author and her family own and operate a 130-cow dairy and crop 1,500 acres. She also is a former associate editor at Hoard’s Dairyman.

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