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Mark Watne, ND Farmers Union President
NDFU
Mark Watne, ND Farmers Union President

ND ag group backs Vilsack, cites valuable experience


Mike Moen, Greater Dakota News Service - December 16, 2020

BISMARK, N.D. - A key agriculture group in North Dakota sounds hopeful about President-elect Joe Biden's choice for agriculture secretary - despite the organization's preferred candidate not getting the nod.

This week, former Iowa governor and USDA head Tom Vilsack was nominated to run the same agency he oversaw during the Obama administration. North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne described Vilsack as a safe pick who will be able to get the job done.

"That'll be helpful because we're in such a terrible situation in agriculture," said Watne. "You know, getting 40% of our income from the federal government, and still not quite getting full recovery in our markets, and you know, kind-of still in a trade war."

The group had endorsed former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp as a potential nominee, saying the close connection would have been a big boost for regional producers.

Nationally, civil-rights advocates have called Vilsack's record on equity issues into question. Other observers feel he didn't do enough in his last term as ag secretary on issues like food safety.

Although Vilsack wasn't their first pick, Watne says having a nominee with midwestern, Iowa roots will still be a plus for farmers in North Dakota.

"Of course, Iowa looks a lot like Minnesota and somewhat like North Dakota," said Watne. "But he understands the farm program. He's been relatively supportive of ethanol."

President-elect Biden has proposed an ambitious plan to address climate change, and Watne said it will be interesting to see what role agriculture plays in working with the administration.

He's said he's hopeful that with Vilsack in the fold, the industry will have a voice in the process. Despite some broader concerns about the nomination, Vilsack is expected to be approved.



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