With Secretary of Agriculture as the only position not yet filled in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet, the list of interviewees for the position continues to grow. The latest to meet with Trump officials is Ted McKinney, head of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. McKinney, who was a member of the Trump ag advisory committee during the campaign, has had his name on the list of possible choices since the beginning of the cabinet selection process. In recent weeks, however, other names have moved to the top. The latest was Indiana farmer Kip Tom, who made the trek to Trump Tower last week. Like Tom, McKinney is keeping mum about the meeting or his prospects for the job.
McKinney is well connected politically and has a wealth of experience both nationally and internationally, having served in external relations positions with Dow AgroSciences and Elanco Animal Health. McKinney is well known as an outspoken advocate for agriculture and for farmers both large and small. He is a staunch supporter of biotechnology and modern farming methods. Yet he also supports alternative farming practices and direct farmer marketing to consumers. It was under his guidance that the Indiana Grown program was re-launched and expanded and now helps hundreds of small Hoosier farmers market products directly to consumers through commercial retail operations like Kroger. McKinney has also been a member of the Indiana Economic Development Council and has been instrumental in bringing many new agribusinesses to the state.
While many in agriculture are feeling frustrated by the lack of an announcement for an agriculture secretary, the issue is now becoming a political liability for the Trump administration. Outgoing ag secretary Tom Vilsack criticized the lack of action, “Why is that the last one?” said Vilsack when speaking to the Wall Street Journal this week, Vilsack says the absence of an agriculture secretary nominee so late in the cabinet-selection process reflects a “lack of appreciation” for what the Department of Agriculture does. A Trump transition team member maintains an announcement will be made soon, saying, “The future growth of the U.S. agriculture sector is of critical importance to President-elect Trump,” as a reason for the lengthy selection process to find the right candidate.
While McKinney and Tom are the latest to meet with Trump officials, political insiders still maintain that former Georgia governor, Republican Sonny Perdue is still at the top of the list. There had been speculation that the announcement would come during the AFBF convention in Phoenix this week.