President Obama’s two-term agriculture secretary will soon slip through one of Washington’s revolving doors and switch from government official to private sector executive eager to push for an industry agenda.
Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that his first job outside the Cabinet will be heading up a dairy industry trade group that pushes for access to foreign markets, the U.S. Dairy Export Council.
Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who served as Secretary of Agriculture for both of President Barack Obama’s terms, stepped down last week. President-elect Donald Trump has yet to nominate a successor.
The Dairy Export Council is one of several related groups that advocate for and lobby on behalf of the dairy industry, but Vilsack says he doesn’t expect to be at the Capitol asking lawmakers to pass certain bills.
“My job is to be a spokesperson for the industry writ large,” Vilsack says, “to be able to go out in foreign markets and domestic markets and explain to producers what we're doing, explain to the general public the importance of these products -- the importance of a robust and strong dairy industry.”
The agency Vilsack ran for years provides support for the Dairy Export Council, according to the group’s website. The organization reported nearly $24 million in total revenue in their most recent tax filings.
Vilsack takes the helm at an interesting moment for U.S. agriculture on the world stage. American farmers depend on a global market for their goods -- the USDA forecasts $5.3 billion worth of dairy exports alone this year -- but Trump has pledged to renegotiate trade deals, which could upend the market.