Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, was nominated by President Trump on Sunday for USDA’s Under Secretary of Farm Production and Conservation. The fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer is serving his third term as Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture, and is a strong proponent of conservation programs, including water quality.
In an exclusive interview with PORK magazine last summer, he talked about government’s role in finding solutions that work for everyone. He believes it’s wrong to think every complex problem has a simple solution, and water quality would be a prime example.
“We often try so hard to simplify things that it can be destructive,” Northey told PORK last summer. “Often, you’ll think of an action that makes perfect sense in the world you know, not realizing that action could have negative unintended consequences. In all levels of government, it’s important to try to do just the things that need to be done. Government (and the public) wants to fix problems, but good intentions can go bad quickly if you don’t do all your homework to make sure you really understand the impact.” (Read more from the interview with Northey here)
Northey talked about agriculture’s challenges and opportunities in this View From the Top Q&A in Top Producer last winter.
The Iowa Soybean Association feels Northey’s nomination is good for U.S. farmers and good for agriculture.
“I can't think of anyone more qualified than Secretary Northey to assist farmers with conservation and production practices in the undersecretary position,” says Rolland Schnell, Iowa Soybean Association President in a statement. “The fact he’s still raising soybeans and corn, utilizing cover crops and working to improve water quality and soil health on his Spirit Lake farm is proof.
“Northey is a longtime and trusted friend of the Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa's farmers,” Schnell continues. “We look forward to working with him on a host of pressing issues and challenges upon confirmation of his appointment to this important USDA post.”
"I’ve known Bill Northey for years and he has been an exceptional Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa," U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a news release. "He’s an Iowa farmer with dirt under his fingernails who knows first-hand what goes into running a family farm."
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, issued the following statement on Northey’s nomination:
“Agriculture has been engrained in Bill Northey all his life. As a fourth generation Iowa farmer, he has dedicated his life to helping farmers and ranchers across the state of Iowa. Bill has traveled around to Iowa’s 99 counties to hear directly from folks about the issues they are concerned about and works tirelessly to identify a path forward. Additionally, he has taken part in important international trade missions and understands the need to promote our agricultural bounty abroad.
“For nearly a decade, Iowa has benefited from having a Secretary of Agriculture as committed and hardworking as Bill Northey; he will be greatly missed," Ernst said. "However, I know he is the best person for the job and will serve the American people well, along with Secretary Perdue, and will be an advocate on behalf of farmers, and not Washington bureaucrats.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue praised Trump's appointment, noting Northey's farming experience as a unique addition.
“Bill Northey will continue his honorable record of public service in leading FPAC," Perdue said in a press release. "Having served the people of Iowa for the last 10 years as their secretary of agriculture, and as a fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer, Bill has a unique understanding of issues facing farmers across the nation. He will be an invaluable member of the team.”
Northey’s name was mentioned earlier this year as a contender for one of the under secretary spots, so the announcement wasn’t a complete surprise to insiders. The 57-year-old said he was anxious to "support the president" in whatever role.
"I appreciate the kind comments and support from so many friends here in Iowa and across the country … but the appointment process can take time to unfold and it is important not to be overly presumptive," Northey said on Facebook.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will have the task of finding a replacement for Northey.