Iowa ag secretary Northey interested in federal post

Spirit Lake farmer in his third term; 'we don't know for sure'

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DES MOINES — Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Monday he would be interested in taking a post in the Trump administration’s agriculture agency, but he expects he’ll be around Iowa “quite a while” given the time-consuming process of getting appointed and confirmed to a federal post.

Speculation surfaced last week that Northey, 57, a Spirit Lake farmer in his third term as state ag secretary, was in line for a newly created position in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He told reporters Monday he discussed that option with new USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue during a recent central Iowa event, and the two had several previous conversations.

"We don't know for sure that this is going to happen," Northey said of the possible appointment to become undersecretary for farm production and conservation, a position that would oversee the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"I think all along I've said if there was a place that I could serve and felt like I fit, something that I was interested in and had some strengths in, I'd be interested," Northey told reporters Monday.

However, he said, to date there has been no formal signal from the Trump administration about developments at the USDA, and he knows other people also have spoken with Perdue. He also noted that the process of getting confirmed by the U.S. Senate like would take two to four weeks after an appointment is made.

“Certainly very interested in being able to work with them whether it’s from here or from there,” Northey said. “Whichever way, I’m around for quite a while, whether that’s another year and a half or several months.”

According to an article posted Friday by agweb.com — an online report of the Farm Journal — Northey is expected to become undersecretary for farm production and conservation, one of three positions created under Perdue’s USDA reorganization. Agweb.com quoted Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president of policy and trade issues for Informa Economics Inc., as saying “you can almost go to the bank” on the appointment. The company specializes in agribusiness analysis. Northey said it would be an “amazing experience” to be part of the USDA and expected it would be beneficial for Iowa as well if he were in an influential federal policy post.

“I know he’s had that with lots and lots of folks as he’s trying to put his puzzle pieces together of where all the strengths are and who he needs in different positions,” Northey said of his conversations with Perdue, a former governor of Georgia. “You know he just announced the reorganization of USDA, so some of these positions are even new to what they’ve had and the way that they’re formed.”

If Northey were to leave for the federal post, his replacement for the rest of his term would be named by the governor’s office. The position is up for election in 2018. Northey was among those who advised the Donald Trump campaign on agricultural issues.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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