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Who Is on Trump's Short List for Secretary of Ag?

Don Villwock first learned that he might be a candidate for Secretary of Agriculture in the new Trump administration when his daughter called him and said he should look at an article on the Politico website the day after the election.

“I had never made any overtures to anybody and last Wednesday I see my name on the short list,” Villwock said when contacted by Agriculture.com on Saturday. The southwest Indiana farmer and recently retired Indiana Farm Bureau president wouldn’t confirm or deny that he’s among those being vetted for the job. But Villwock said he’s a long-time friend of Vice President-elect Mike Pence and that Pence has assumed oversight of the transition at USDA as well as running the overall transition effort for president-elect Donald Trump. Trump’s ag transition leader, lobbyist Michael Torrey, resigned from that job last week.

Villwock made a strong run in the election for a new American Farm Bureau Federation president at the group’s meeting in Orlando, Florida last January, losing to Zippy Duvall of Georgia. Now, a much more demanding job could lie ahead.

“I’m honored to be on the list. It’s nice to be remembered for my past activities and work,” Villwock told Agriculture.com

Because Mike Pence will leave the governorship of Indiana to become Vice President next year, it’s not surprising that several other potential ag secretaries are Hoosiers.

Politico also listed Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. Conner’s brother, Mike, farms in northwest Indiana. Ted McKinney, current director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture is on the list, along with another Indiana farmer, Kip Tom and Mike McCloskey, co-founder of Fair Oaks Farms, a large dairy and agritourism business.

Speculation has also focused on Texans--the state’s former governor, Rick Perry, and current ag secretary, Sid Miller.  From Nebraska, former governor Dave Heineman and agribusinessman, Charles Herbster, make the list. Herbster chaired the agricultural advisory committee for Trump’s campaign.

From Iowa, there’s agribusinessman Bruce Rastetter; from Georgia, former governor Sonny Perdue; and from Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback.

Other names have faded. Last Friday, Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas quickly shot down a rumor he’d been offered the ag secretary job, saying he prefers to remain in the U.S. Senate. Another Kansan, Representative Tim Huelskamp, seems eager to have the job, but at least one columnist has pointed out that farm groups in that state had a role in Huelskamp’s defeat in the GOP primary for his western Kansas seat in Congress. Next January, Huelskamp will need another job it it’s not leading the USDA.

Because agriculture is unique, Villwock said he’d like to see a farmer lead the USDA, whether it’s him or someone else. The last active farmer to serve as Agriculture Secretary was John Block, under President Ronald Reagan.

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