Merrigan, former No. 2 at USDA, ‘would welcome the opportunity’ to lead agency

Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of the USDA during the Obama era, said on Tuesday she “would welcome the opportunity to be considered” for agriculture secretary in the Biden administration. “Honestly, it is the job of a lifetime and I have been in training for it my entire career.”

Merrigan, who now directs a sustainable food and agriculture center at Arizona State University, was among a seemingly growing number of potential nominees to lead the USDA. Two farm lobbyists said Pennsylvania state agriculture secretary Russell Redding, the former dean of agriculture at Delaware State College, was under consideration as well, according to The Hagstrom Report. Pennsylvania was instrumental in Biden’s victory.

“From wildfires to climate, trade and rising food insecurity, building USDA back better will not be easy,” said Merrigan, borrowing on the title, Build Back Better, of President-elect Biden’s economic recovery plan. “I’m excited to see so many women topping the lists of those under consideration and I’m aware that my name is among them.”

Merrigan was in charge of day-to-day operations at the USDA as deputy to Secretary Tom Vilsack, during President Obama’s second term. As a Senate staff worker, she helped write the 1990 legislation creating the national organic food program and during Obama’s first term, was administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Merrigan also led the “Know your farmer, know your food” initiative to promote local production and marketing of food.

Since 2018, she has been executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State, focusing on food, agriculture, and climate change issues. She has also been involved in wildfire prevention and forestry work at two international research organizations.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, also in the mix for agriculture secretary, spoke on Tuesday to 140 community leaders about sustainability, nutrition and food policy in a meeting arranged by the Farm to Fork Initiative. Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the most frequently mentioned potential nominee for USDA, was to speak to the forum on Wednesday.

Karen Ross, California’s secretary of agriculture, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock,  who lost his bid for the Senate, have also been mentioned for the top spot at the USDA, according to Politico.