During a campaign event in late September, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest told a crowd of farm families at the Duplin County Event Center that, “Donald Trump knows agriculture.”
It was a puzzling assertion about a New York real estate mogul who likely doesn’t know the difference between revolving debt and rotating crops. Could Forest have meant Trump’s grape expertise? He owns a vineyard in Charlottesville, Va., where he’s seeking visas for six foreign workers needed to prune the vines. Perhaps the PEOTUS is proficient in parsley — curly-leaf versus flat — that could garnish the infamously maligned filet mignon at the Trump Grill in New York City.
If Trump knows agriculture, as Forest announced, albeit unconvincingly, then why have six weeks passed without a nominee for USDA secretary? Whomever Trump nominates and is ultimately confirmed will have enormous responsibilities, not just to agribusiness but to the environment — via the US Forest Service; low-income people — in the form of the food stamp program; and everyone who eats — via food safety regulations.
Politico published a Christmas Eve rundown of Trump’s list of candidates; so far, agribusiness and rural America are unimpressed. A few Texans, a Democratic Senator from North Dakota, a Republican governor: None has yet passed the audition.
The post, currently held by Tom Vlisack, oversees food safety regulations and slaughterhouse inspections — both of which could be weakened by an anti-regulatory Trump administration. It also administers nutrition and food stamp programs, which are vital for low-income families. (Invoking a 1996 law, signed by President Bill Clinton, the Obama administration cut back food stamp benefits for people between the ages of 18 and 49 who have no dependents and are not disabled. (This hurts more people than you’d think, such as ex-offenders whose criminal records prevent them from getting jobs, unemployed single mothers or fathers whose children have recently left home. )
Other than being the eighth in the line of presidential succession, the Agriculture Secretary has important environmental responsibilities. It’s the parent agency of the US Forest Service, key to federal land conservation and the protection of endangered species and wildlife habitat, which can collide with corporate farm interests. The USDA also is responsible for rural housing and utilities — including renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, which are at odds with Trump’s support of the fossil fuel and ethanol industries.
Confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin Jan. 3, just eight days from now. We’re waiting for just a name. Because Donald Trump, he knows agriculture.