Iowa ag secretary Bill Northey leaving 'best job' for USDA post

He will sworn in Tuesday night during event at Iowa State Fairgrounds

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey bids farewell Monday, March 5, 2018, as he prepares to be sworn in to a federal post. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey bids farewell Monday, March 5, 2018, as he prepares to be sworn in to a federal post. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said his goodbyes Monday to “a job I have loved every day” and will be sworn in Tuesday evening to become undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Some days haven’t been easy,” he said at a news conference that kicked off a series of events in his transition from the office he’s held for 11 years.

He resigned at 1:30 Monday and his interim successor, Deputy Director Mike Naig, was sworn in at 2 p.m. Northey will be sworn in as undersecretary for farm and foreign AG services by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue at 8 p.m. Tuesday as part of the annual Iowa Agricultural Leaders Dinner at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.

Northey talked briefly about the challenges and accomplishments over his tenure — especially the bird flu outbreak of 2015, which he called “probably the worst time in their professional careers, in their farm families’ lives.” There also were budget challenges as well as what he called “probably the largest ongoing initiative for the department, the focus on improving water quality.”

“The challenges of managing that are daunting, but we are engaging,” Northey said. “I still believe we are at the beginning of that, but we are well into that beginning. I am very proud of the work that’s been done.”

Northey said he is attracted to Perdue’s management philosophy at the USDA.

“He is certainly is someone who believes, like many Iowans do, that we need to get out and talk to farmers, that government is supposed to work for people,” Northey said.

“I certainly appreciate his patience, too,” Northey joked, referring to the 179 days between his nomination by President Donald Trump and his Senate confirmation.


Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, placed a hold on his nomination as leverage in a dispute over the Renewable Fuel Standard and how it affects oil refineries.

Despite the title, Northey said there will be no “foreign AG service” responsibility in his new role. That was changed in last farm bill.

He will have responsibility for traditional support programs — crop insurance, conservation reserve, farm loans and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

He described those programs as the “customer-facing pieces of USDA … the areas that farmers work with fairly often.”

What he has learned from the past 11 years will serve him in his new role, Northey said.

“Back in 2006 when I was first elected, I think I knew a little about what I was getting into, but I certainly didn’t have the appreciation for the great opportunities that I have had as secretary of agriculture.”

The Iowa AG secretary job is up for election this November.

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