Chuck Hassebrook

[imgcontainer left] [img:Hassebrooksav.jpg] [source]Lincoln Journal Star[/source] Chuck Hassebrook [/imgcontainer]

Nebraska farm policy reformer Chuck Hassebrook will not be going to Washington, D.C. Sources close to Hassebrook said he apparently is out of the running to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Deputy Secretary would be second in charge to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Hassebrook was a favorite of those who favored deep reforms of farm payment and subsidy programs. Hassebrook was on a list of twelve people — the “Sustainable Dozen” — promoted by Food Democracy Now for the Deputy Secretary position. (The group, led by food writer Michael Pollan and sustainable agriculture advocate and poet Wendell Berry, originally recommended Hassebrook to be Secretary.) The on-line petition supporting Hassebrook and the 11 others has been signed by nearly 85,000 people.

Hassebrook was also promoted for the Ag Secretary job by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Yonder correspondent Richard Oswald.

There is nothing official from Vilsack’s office on who will be named Deputy Secretary and Hassebrook isn’t talking. But Hassebrook had encountered opposition from those within the ag community because of his calls for strict limits on federal payouts to farmers. As a candidate, Barack Obama, too, supported caps on payments, the position Hassebrook has maintained as executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska.

Farm writer Alan Guebert, in Farm and Dairy, says that the “old guard” (that is, big farm organizations and agribusiness) was “scared” by Obama’s talk during the campaign and has been busy trying “to influence USDA sub-Cabinet appointments that are seen as threats to Big Ag’s stranglehold on the USDA.” One of those appointments would have been Hassebrook.

The Times’ Kristof reported on Hassebrook’s nomination in his blog yesterday, writing that North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad and others “have protested ferociously and Hassebrook may not be chosen. If so, that’s a pity. The Obama administration needs to figure out how to make the Agriculture Department serve the interests of the entire country, not just the agribusiness tycoons, and Hassebrook would have been a way to turn the department into a bigger tent.”

Other writers see Hassebrook as a rural romantic who hasn’t caught up with the current state of agriculture — big farms on large acreages operating very expensive equipment. Brownfield Network’s Steve Kopperud, without mentioning Hassebrook by name, wrote in late January that the “fear is that the Obama team picked a good, solid, centrist secretary, but may put some of the ideologues I’ve warned about before in critical positions.”

Forest Laws of the Delta Farm Press opposed Hassebrook’s appointment, writing that what the Nebraskan “refuses to recognize — we’ve had this debate before — is the larger farming operations he denigrates are the norm in the Sunbelt and probably more the rule in states like Nebraska and in Iowa. (Iowa probably has more 2,000-acre farming operations than the 300- to 400-acre ones by far.)” Farms got that big, Law writes, “so they could stay in business.”

The conflict was apparently enough to sink Hassebrook.

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