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Building exports priority No. 1 for Vilsack at USDECBuilding exports priority No. 1 for Vilsack at USDEC

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discusses his goals as he plans to embark on his new role as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Jacqui Fatka

January 17, 2017

3 Min Read
Building exports priority No. 1 for Vilsack at USDEC
Tom Vilsack will continue to do a lot of milk promotion in his new role as president and CEO of U.S. Dairy Export Council. Pictured he is with National Football League Washington Redskins wide receiver Malcolm Kelly (left) and safety Reed Doughty (right) displaying their milk mustaches at a 2010 promotion event.USDA

Dairy farmers see the announcement that former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will be leading the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) as a “shot in the arm and shot of hope” for a struggling dairy industry, according to Tom Gallagher, chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the umbrella organization that represents the broad interests of U.S. dairy and that founded USDEC in 1995.

Gallagher hosted a media call Tuesday morning shortly after the news became official of Vilsack’s new position at the export council. He noted that Vilsack brings credibility with other countries, a deep knowledge about U.S. agriculture and great relationships that already have been established around the world.

During the call, Vilsack did most of the talking in embracing his new role, which he sees as a continuation of being able to advocate on behalf of farmers. That role first started when he was a small-town lawyer in Iowa, then his two terms as governor of the state before spending his last eight years in the top position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Vilsack said his main focus at USDEC will be to promote exports as well as to be a voice for the dairy industry generally. He said he’s excited to see markets maintained and demand increased for products in Mexico, Southeast Asia and Canada.

Related:Dairy Export Council taps Vilsack to take lead

The dairy industry has been vocal in recent weeks in calling out protectionist trade actions by Canada as well as the need to support trade. Vilsack reiterated those messages in the media call, again saying that the goal is an open and competitive market.

“We can compete with anyone as long as the rules allow greater access,” Vilsack added. He said USDEC will continue to shed light on barriers, including sanitary and phytosanitary, whether they exist, and it will do everything it can to bring down those barriers.

Mexico, which imported nearly $1 billion worth of U.S. dairy products in the first 11 months of 2016, shows that the relationship needs to continually be maintained as there was a slight decline in overall sales to the country. “We’ve got a tremendous product that is safe, stable and affordable and a wide variety,” Vilsack said. “Our goal is to work with our customers to understand the full scope of what’s available.”

He said the goal throughout the entire dairy industry it to continue to be increasingly sensitive to demands of different markets and then promote aggressively.

He added that USDEC’s team works very closely with the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and the Foreign Agricultural Service at USDA. He said USDEC is constantly on the lookout to identify any regulatory barriers and to state clearly that any such barriers need to be taken down. He also mentioned that USDEC is “extremely sensitive to geographic indicators” that the European Union imposes on the rest of the world.

Vilsack does have some ethical restrictions on the role he can play with the executive branch over the next two years, but once those requirements expire, he will be more involved in the leadership and oversight in advocating for the removal of those barriers.

During his tenure as agriculture secretary, he regularly spoke about some of the struggles facing U.S. dairy producers and need to potentially re-tweak the next farm bill to address some of the shortfalls. Although he said he’ll leave the policy formulation up to the policy team, he added that will be “supportive and weigh in” when necessary.

Vilsack will assume the role of president and CEO at USDEC on Feb. 1.

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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