With Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey likely headed to Washington, D.C., soon for a top job at USDA, a half dozen or more people are voicing interest in being appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds to succeed Northey. Wallaces Farmer talked to several of them regarding their desire to head-up the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
The Iowa secretary of agriculture post is a statewide elected office with a four-year term. Northey is a fourth-generation Dickinson County farmer who was first elected state ag secretary in 2006. He was elected again in 2010 and 2014.
Whomever Gov. Reynolds appoints to succeed Northey will fill out his term which expires in January 2019. Northey’s nomination to the undersecretary of agriculture post at USDA is awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate, but Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, foresees no problem. Northey is expected to get the senate ag committee votes and then the full Senate’s votes necessary to install him at USDA.
Ever since President Donald Trump won the presidential election last November, Northey’s name has been mentioned for appointment to a federal position. Trump formally nominated Northey in early September to be USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation. In that position he would supervise USDA’s commodity, conservation and crop insurance programs administered through the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency.
Iowa governor to appoint replacement
Once Northey is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and resigns from office at IDALS, Reynolds will have the authority to appoint a replacement to fill the rest of Northey’s term through the end of 2018. Whomever Reynolds chooses could find he or she has to spend considerable time campaigning for a full four-year term. Along with other statewide offices, the Iowa secretary of agriculture will be on the 2018 ballot — and there could be a hotly contested primary and a competitive race in the general election.
Reynolds is expected to make her choice by considering the political, as well as the administrative skills, of each candidate. Ag leaders in Iowa recognize the political calculations, but they also want the state’s next ag secretary to have hands-on experience in production agriculture. “We need an Iowan who has a background in ag,” says Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill. “And that background should be production agriculture, a farmer.”
State Rep. Pat Grassley, grandson of Chuck Grassley, has tossed his hat in the ring. In a recent weekly news conference call with Iowa reporters, Sen. Grassley said, “I know darn well you expect me to support my grandson, and I am. I hope he will be appointed.” The senator pointed out his grandson’s experience as a six-term state legislator and a farmer. Pat Grassley farms with his family at New Hartford. He’s a former chairman of the House Ag Committee in the Iowa Legislature, and in the past 18 months he’s chaired the House Appropriations Committee.
“Pat is a recognized leader in the Iowa Legislature, plus he’s in the family farming operation. I think he would fit in very well as state ag secretary,” says his grandfather. “He wants to be Iowa’s ag secretary, and obviously I’m going to advocate for him.”
Others expressing strong interest
Other Iowans who are farmers or have strong connections to the farm and have experience in ag leadership positions in farm organizations or political office and who’ve expressed interest in succeeding Northey include state Sen. Dan Zumbach of Ryan, Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, former Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang and American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser, among others.
Dave Struthers, past president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and Annette Sweeney, former chair of the Iowa House Ag Committee, are also on the list. State Sen. Tim Kapucian said he is not actively seeking the office of Iowa ag secretary, but would consider serving if the governor reached out to him.
These are all strong candidates. They offer their deep roots in farming experience, knowledge and leadership qualities Iowa agriculture needs.
Many considered for post
Ever since Trump announced Northey’s nomination for USDA undersecretary, Reynolds hasn’t said much about her plans for the appointment to replace Northey as Iowa ag secretary. She told reporters recently “there are a lot of people under consideration.”
Reynolds noted that the confirmation process for USDA nominations typically takes time. She said she will appoint a qualified person to serve as secretary of agriculture for the rest of Northey’s third term.
“Bill has done a great job, and I’m proud of his work,” said Reynolds. “He’s set the bar high, and I think anybody who would emulate what Bill has been able to do would be a great person to appoint to this position, to lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. We’ve got a lot of qualified people who have contacted the governor’s office saying they are interested, so we’ll do the due diligence. When the time is appropriate, we’ll make the decision.”
Valuable leadership and experience
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s nomination to the newly created post of USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation (FPAC) brought cheers from Iowa farm leaders, lawmakers and others when it was announced by U.S. Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Northey has been an exceptional secretary of agriculture for Iowa. His leadership and passion for agriculture were proven numerous times as he advocated for renewable energy and the adoption of conservation practices like cover crops. He is an Iowa farmer who knows first-hand what goes into running a family farm. For nearly a decade Iowa has benefited from having a secretary of agriculture who is committed and hard-working. He will be greatly missed in Iowa. But he is the best person for the USDA job and will serve the American people well.
A national leader in conservation programs, Northey is also chair of the U.S. Hypoxia Task Force, and spearheaded the first-in-the-nation, science-based Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), now part of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative (WQI). The NRS provides a plan to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus by 45% in Iowa waters and has helped create enthusiasm for conservation and water quality programs statewide.
The WQI is helping Iowa farmers take on the challenge of improving water quality in the state. It has helped farmers add record numbers of conservation practices to Iowa farms; over 4,800 farmers with participants in all 99 counties have installed nutrient reduction practices on more than 455,000 acres. There’s still a lot more to do, but Northey really got Iowa started.