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Farmers react to new Ag Secretary choice

Agriculture.com Staff 12/17/2008 @ 2:29pm

In many ways, Richard Oswald is a typical Midwestern farmer. He and his son, Brandon, farm about 2,000 acres of no-till corn and soybeans, mostly in the Missouri River bottomlands west of the town of Rock Port. Brandon also has a cow-calf herd.

A little less typical is Oswald's devotion to politics, and even less typical, as a Democrat. Last fall, during his own unsuccessful run for the Missouri House of Representatives, Oswald got a chance to meet former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who was campaigning for Barack Obama at an event in St. Joseph.

Wednesday, Oswald was one of several activist farmers who were pleased, even a bit relieved that the tall, mild-mannered lawyer from Iowa was Obama's pick for the next Secretary of Agriculture.

"I think that he's somebody that row crop farmers, mainstream farmers, will be very comfortable with," Oswald told Agriculture Online in a cell phone conversation from his shop. "Speaking for myself, at 58 years old, I didn't want a Secretary of Agriculture who was going to completely re-invent agriculture in America."

Some did, of course. Columnists in the New York Times have called for appointing a secretary of food who would represent consumers. And the Organic Consumers Organization said Wednesday that "Vilsack's nomination sends the message that dangerous, untested, unlabeled genetically engineered crops will be the norm in the Obama administration."

In many ways, Richard Oswald is a typical Midwestern farmer. He and his son, Brandon, farm about 2,000 acres of no-till corn and soybeans, mostly in the Missouri River bottomlands west of the town of Rock Port. Brandon also has a cow-calf herd.

But groups like the Iowa Soybean Association also found Vilsack reassuring, pointing out that he's a past chairman of the Governor's Ethanol Coalition and that he has supported biotechnology and efforts to expand agricultural exports.

Vilsack also understands land use issues, Litterer told Agriculture Online. He's aware of the need to increase productivity on existing farmland to protect the environment and produce enough for both food and fuel.

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