The Senate Agriculture Committee offered a relatively brief and cordial review of two key USDA nominees, Steve Censky and Ted McKinney.
Censky, who most recently served as CEO of the American Soybean Association, has been nominated as deputy USDA secretary. He has previously served at USDA in both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, eventually rising to acting administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service. As deputy USDA secretary, Censky would oversee much of the day-to-day operations of the agency, the USDA budget and much of the implementation of a new farm bill.
Censky outlined three priorities if he is confirmed:
- “Diversification of Markets. This includes expanding foreign trade and promoting local and regional food markets for farmers and consumers alike. In addition, diversification of crops through research, extension, and crop insurance coverage.”
- “Preparation for and Adaption to Changing Weather and Climate. Our agricultural production systems and forests truly are on the front line of impact by changes in weather and climate. I believe USDA has an inherent responsibility to help our farmers, ranchers, and forests become more resilient. USDA’s research, conservation, forestry, extension, crop insurance, and other programs all have major roles to play.”
- “Expansion of Broadband to Rural America. Broadband technology can be transformative for agricultural producers and rural communities. From precision agriculture that allows producers to farm more sustainably to promoting rural development and jobs, America’s rural areas truly need broadband technology. USDA has a unique role to play within the Administration and through its own programs.”
McKinney, currently the director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture, has been tapped to be USDA’s first under secretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs. McKinney previously worked in government affairs at Elanco.
In his testimony before the committee, McKinney acknowledged that USDA is gaining a point person on trade at a key moment and that if confirmed he will immediately face challenges with “NAFTA, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the EU, Latin America and others.”
McKinney also keyed in on regulatory and sanitary-phytosanitary barriers that often block access for U.S. products. “This is, perhaps, the biggest challenge to science generally, and our ability to export completely specifically,” McKinney said. “There exists a double standard with many trading partners. Addressing this growing problem will not be easy, but I intend to collaborate with our friends at USTR, Department of State, Commerce, and anyone else involved in trade to find solutions.”
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue attended the hearing in support of his nominees. Following the hearing he issued a statement urging quick confirmation. “With producers in many states just beginning to assess the damages and losses from back-to-back hurricanes – and with wildfires continuing to rage in large swaths of the country – we will need Steve Censky’s counsel to help navigate the landscape,” Perdue said. “And as Congress continues work on the 2018 Farm Bill, his guidance and input will be invaluable. Likewise, as we continue USDA’s mission of feeding an ever-growing world population, we will need Ted McKinney to be the unapologetic advocate of American agriculture as we expand U.S. access to international markets. He will be the one who wakes up every morning asking where he can sell more American products to foreign consumers. I trust that the Senate will confirm them both in a speedy fashion.”
A committee vote has not yet been scheduled. A full Senate confirmation vote is expected quickly after the agriculture committee takes action.