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Senate confirms 31st Secretary of Agriculture: Sonny Perdue

Sonny Perdue today is the 31st Secretary of Agriculture, having won confirmation by the U.S. Senate in an 87-to-11 vote on Monday.

The former governor of Georgia succeeds Tom Vilsack, who led the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the past eight years and who endorsed Perdue as his successor once the former Georgia governor was nominated by President Trump. Like Vilsack, Perdue was governor of a large diversified agricultural state who takes over USDA with very broad support.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is president-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of agriculture.

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue is president-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of agriculture.

Secretary Perdue takes over USDA as farm prices are off from highs experienced during Vilsack’s tenure. The Senate vote was another illustration of the depth of support for Perdue. His 87 votes were in record territory for a Trump cabinet nominee. The 11 votes he did not get came from Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and ten Democrats who don’t claim much in the way of ties to agriculture.

To avoid any appearance of a conflict, Sen. Davis Perdue, R-GA, just voted “present,” but was given the honor of announcing the vote, confirming his cousin Sonny’s successful nomination.

With his confirmation, Secretary Perdue has a lot of work to do to finish the transition of government. These eight additional top USDA positions also require Senate confirmation:

  • Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
  • Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services
  • Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
  • Under Secretary for Food Safety
  • Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs
  • Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment
  • Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics
  • Under Secretary for Rural Development

The White House is expected to give Secretary Perdue the running room to name his own team, but some of these appointments are more pressing than others. USDA has gone for more than three years without an Under Secretary for Food Safety, a presidential appointment that is required by law. Food safety is one of USDA’s top responsibilities.

While his own business activities were extensive enough to hold up his nomination, Perdue is not in any way affiliated or related to either the food company or the poultry producer that also go by the Perdue name.

Sonny Perdue’s father was, however, a farmer from Bonaire, GA.

“I’ve known and worked with Sonny Perdue for many years and I know what a dedicated public servant he is,” United Fresh Director Bill Brim of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tipton, GA, said after the vote.

“I also know that he really understands and appreciates the value of the fresh produce industry to this country. I’m confident that he’ll do everything he can to work with United Fresh and all of our industry to help us meet the many challenges and opportunities we have before us; his confirmation as Secretary of Agriculture is a great development for the entire fresh fruit and vegetable production chain.”

While literally hundreds of farm, ranch and agricultural groups endorsed Perdue’s nomination as it came before the Senate, there were dissident voices, mostly outside the industry.

“As Governor, Sonny Perdue repeatedly put corporate profits over protecting farmers, workers and consumers. His long-standing ties to major agribusiness and chemical companies have made him out of touch with American values,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, Friends of the Earth Food Futures campaigner.

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