Farm groups pleased with Vilsack nomination

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Agriculture officials praised President-elect Barack Obama's selection of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as his choice for agriculture secretary.

Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, a lifelong farmer and rancher and the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said Vilsack's background as a leader of one of the nation's largest agriculture producing states bodes well for his understanding of challenges facing Oklahoma's farmers and ranchers. Vilsack is a Democrat.

"I look forward to working with him in the future ... and to ensure that he gives consideration to the needs of wheat and cotton farmers, as well as farmers and ranchers in his home state of Iowa," Lucas said in a statement.

Praise also came in from South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds. Rounds said Vilsack understands the need for a good Farm Bill and its implementation as a support network for Midwestern farmers.

One of Vilsack's first tasks likely will be pushing Obama's pledge to trim wasteful farm subsidies, an elusive goal that has confounded President George W. Bush and scores of lawmakers.

Both Obama and Vilsack face long odds in getting such an agenda past powerful farm-state lawmakers in Congress, despite many calls from within Washington and around the country.

While the 2008 Farm Bill already has been approved by Congress, Lucas acknowledges there is a fear among some farmers that production funding in the bill could be cut by the new administration, and Lucas said he aims to prevent that.

"I hope that Mr. Vilsack focuses on ensuring the 2008 farm bill is promptly and properly implemented, with no cuts to the production agriculture programs established in the bill," Lucas said.

"American farmers and ranchers are facing a tough road ahead due to the recent economic woes."

Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Terry Peach said state agriculture officials also are excited about Vilsack's selection because of his background from a farming state.

Peach said of particular importance is Vilsack's understanding of the impact that natural disasters like droughts, flooding and wildfires can have on the agriculture community since Vilsack would oversee agriculture-related disaster declarations.

"Iowa often suffers from floods and droughts, similar to what we do," Peach said. "He understands the importance of a quick response."