CEDAR RAPIDS - If confirmed for a national post, Iowa’s agriculture secretary said Thursday he would ensure crop insurance remains as a support for the country’s farmers.
“I read it as I wrote it. Crop insurance is the most important part of the farm safety net,” Bill Northey said in opening remarks during a hearing on his nomination to serve in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“While our farm safety net has worked for many, many producers, I do also hear that there are producers who are left out. I am committed to this committee to work with you to make sure all producers have the risk management tools that they need,” Northey added.
The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing for just over an hour Thursday to vet Northey’s nomination to serve as the USDA’s Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation. The hearing also included Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach, who has been nominated to a separate USDA position.
Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, hailed Northey and Ibach as farmers with “boots-on-the-ground” experience.
“They know what weighs on the minds of farmers and ranchers, the challenges they face on daily basis, and the focus and drive they put into their life’s work,” Roberts said.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, pushed Northey to expand access to crop insurance and prioritize land and water conservation practices.
“I know you personally understand that agriculture needs to be a part of the solution in addressing water quality issues,” Stabenow said. “If confirmed for this role, I urge you to continue to prioritize the protection of our land and our water.”
President Donald Trump officially selected Northey in September to serve in the USDA. The FPAC secretary would oversee three USDA agencies: the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Risk Management Agency. Programs under the role would include crop insurance, conservation, disaster assistance and producer lending services, Roberts said Thursday.
Northey told committee members of conservation efforts in Iowa, including the state’s nutrient reduction strategy and planting of cover crops.
“The momentum is really growing. Do we have a long ways to go? Absolutely. We have lots more that needs to get done, but what I’m excited about is the momentum, both in the interest of farmers” and outside groups, Northey said.
Northey’s nomination still requires a vote by the Senate Agriculture Committee and then the full Senate.
“We’re going to do that as expeditiously as we possibly can,” Roberts said of his committee’s vote.
Both of Iowa’s U.S. senators, Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, are members of the Agriculture Committee.
Should the Senate approve his nomination, Northey would be sworn in to the post and resign as Iowa’s Agriculture Secretary.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds would appoint Northey’s replacement, who would serve the rest of his term. The state position is up for election in 2018. A spokeswoman for the governor said Thursday her office still is gathering resumes and did not have an update on possible successors.
Northey, a Spirit Lake corn and soybean farmer, has served in multiple roles with state and national farm groups. A Republican, he is currently serving his third term as the state’s agriculture secretary and is a state co-chair of Reynolds’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
“I will be an advocate within the administration for the producers in the countryside,” Northey said at Thursday’s hearing.
Northey, 58, graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agricultural business and received a master’s in business administration from Southwest Minnesota State University. He and his wife, Cindy, have three children.
Introducing Northey on Thursday, Grassley hailed him for his leadership during an outbreak of avian flu in Iowa two years ago and his conservation work in the state.
“Perhaps his most important quality is his vision that he has shown leading the Iowa Department of Agriculture. As an example, Bill was focused on water quality issues in Iowa years before many farmers and press outlets became engaged,” Grassley said.
Grassley’s grandson, state Rep. Pat Grassley, is among the names circulated as possible replacements for Northey.