cows in field

Update on Pasture Rule and Administration Changes

By Ed Maltby, NODPA Executive Director

The new administration moved very quickly to appoint the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and he appointed his advisors, mostly from the Obama transition team. The Obama administration has accepted Secretary Vilsack’s recommendation and nominated Kathleen Merrigan as Deputy Secretary, the number two position at USDA.

Secretary Vilsack has served in the public sector at nearly every level of government, beginning as mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa in 1987, and then as state senator in 1992 and in 1998, he was the first Democrat elected Governor of Iowa in more than 30 years, an office he held for two terms. As Governor, he created the Iowa Food Policy Council to advance local food systems, enhance family farm profitability, and combat hunger and malnutrition. He led trade missions to foreign countries to market agricultural products and attended the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to push for expanded agricultural trade negotiations. In addition to serving on the National Governors Association Executive Committee, he also served as chair of the Governors Ethanol Coalition, chair of the Democratic Governors Association, and founding member and chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership. As chair of the National Governors Association Committee on Natural Resources, Vilsack promoted private lands conservation and advanced the concept of tying farm payments to conservation commodities. He also created a comprehensive conservation program in Iowa to encourage and assist landowners in installing buffer strips, restoring wetlands, and rewarding good conservation practices. As a hopeful sign for the future, he spent some time at the Farmers Market Consortium meeting; the first time an Agriculture Secretary has attended these regular meetings, and he promoted “A safe, sufficient, sustainable, and nutritious food supply for all.”

Kathleen A. Merrigan is a longtime champion of sustainable agriculture. From 1987 to 1992, she was a staff member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, working for Chairman Patrick Leahy and drafting the National Organic Program legislation, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Biotechnology Risk Assessment Program, among others. She worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture from 1994 to 1999 and shared offices with the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. From 1999 to 2001, she was Administrator of Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kathleen is currently an Assistant Professor and Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Her family lives just a few miles down the road from me in Northampton, MA and we both know that Joe’s Pizza is the best ever. Thank you Kathleen for agreeing to serve again in DC and best of wishes as you successfully balance the many conflicting demands within USDA.

Status of Pasture Rule

At the time of writing there has been no announcement of any Under Secretary appointments and a 60 day hold on any final rulemaking. Most of the contact with the new administration is with Vilsack’s advisors who are his point people for different priorities and agencies. They reside in what is called the “cage” because they have offices located next to the Secretary’s office. Questions so far have been fairly simple around educating them about the level of grassroots support for the FOOD Farmers suggested changes to the Proposed Rule and why it is needed.

We are left to guess about what the timeline for publication of the final pasture rule and the publication of the Proposed Rule on dairy replacements will be. Luckily, all the commenting and input on the Proposed Rule was completed so there was no delay in that process because of the change in administration.

With other sustainable and organic advocates, we hope that the people appointed as Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs and the head of Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will come from the pool of the many highly qualified candidates that have a good understanding of the National Organic Program, some of whom played a leading role in the establishment of the program. The growth of organic production and the increasing sophistication of the program makes it essential that there is a champion for it at the highest level possible and hopefully a permanent point person in the Secretary’s office.

Once the announcements are made, we can all work with the appointees to ensure the future success of the program and towards a sustainable future for organic dairy producers. The National Organic Coalition, of which NODPA is a member, has sent recommendation to the Obama administration that can be viewed at: