KRYSTA Harden, President Barack Obama's nominee to serve as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sat before the Senate Agriculture Committee July 23 and received high marks for her potential ability to help USDA navigate in the future.
In addition, more than 140 agricultural groups wrote the committee a letter in support of Harden's nomination.
Introducing her to the committee, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) said Harden, despite serving many years in Washington, D.C., still refers to herself as a Georgia farm girl. He noted that she has never forgotten her roots growing up on a peanut farm and will bring a wealth of knowledge, rustic upbringing and federal experience to the number-two post at USDA.
Harden currently serves as chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Before that, she served as assistant secretary for congressional relations at USDA from 2009 to 2011. From 2004 to 2009, she served as chief executive officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts.
Previously, Harden was senior vice president of Gordley Associates from 1993 to 2004 and worked particularly for soybean producers. She served as staff director for the House agriculture subcommittee on peanuts and tobacco from 1992 to 1993. From 1981 to 1992, she was in a number of roles, including legislative director, chief of staff and press secretary for former Georgia Rep. Charles Hatcher. Harden received a journalism degree from the University of Georgia.
"My combined experience in those roles taught me that our farmers and ranchers must run a sound business. They must understand science, innovation and mechanics — not to mention have the stamina to work long hours," Harden testified.
Bishop said he has worked with Harden on a range of challenging and sensitive issues and has found her to be "bipartisan and no-nonsense in her way of problem solving." He also called her "honest, forthright and fair."
In questioning from Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) regarding regulatory burdens on farmers, Harden admitted that "common sense gets lost sometimes."
"I can't tell you I can fix everything, but I'm aware, I understand and I agree with you. I will do what I can in that role," Harden said, adding that there are practical approaches to take, and from her personal experience, she knows farmers want to do what's right if they're given the chance.
In her prepared testimony, Harden noted that she helped implement the 2008 farm bill during her time as assistant secretary for congressional relations. In response to questions on the new farm bill, she said she's ready for Congress to send one to USDA.
"You send us a farm bill, and we'll get it done," she said, noting that she hopes to be the one leading that effort.
Harden made strong statements about the need to continue investing in rural America. She said if confirmed, she hopes to play a key role in leading USDA's efforts to revitalize and strengthen the rural economy.
She also voiced the need to continue to expand opportunities for producers in local and regional markets, something her predecessor, Kathleen Merrigan, has championed. Harden testified that there has been a 67% increase in the number of farmers markets nationwide since 2009, and today, there are more than 220 regional food hubs in operation around the country.
The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved Harden's nomination last Thursday, so now the full Senate must vote on her nomination.