Friday, February 12, 2010

What else are we missing about Deputy Merrigan?

Before Michael Pollan, and King Corn, the current Deputy Secretary was full of criticism for agriculture as we know it

When the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing to consider the nomination of Kathleen Merrigan to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, we heard most of the niceties you would expect for someone who used to be a staff member there. Her former boss, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), offered glowing words of praise, as did most other committee members. Only Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) seemed to probe a little deeper into her past support for organic agriculture, asking whether or not she could be able to represent all of agriculture if confirmed to be the number two political leader at USDA.

Sitting on the sidelines at that same hearing were folks keeping their fingers crossed, hoping and praying that no one would ask about a little known chapter that Merrigan had written as part of a book, “Visions for Agriculture,” published in 1997. In that highly inflammatory chapter, Merrigan took a stab at almost every traditional interest group in agriculture, as well as the Senate Agriculture Committee, whose members she now needed to vote for her confirmation.

In short, she would have had some explaining to do.

But no one seemed to have read that little known piece of work, and no one least until now. We published several excerpts from the piece on

Read “This is not your father’s (or your mother’s) USDA, (subscriber only) It’s a straight up piece, that you can read and form your own opinion.

“The future of U.S. agriculture depends on reinventing government according to three principles: regulation, diversity, and democratic decision making. These principles will help farmers by ensuring market access and environmental stewardship…….To attain my vision of U.S. agriculture, we must undergo a disruptive period of heavy-handed government reforms, followed by a true partnership between the public and private sectors,” Merrigan wrote while she was a senior analyst for the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, a Washington, DC-based organization which promotes research and education in sustainable agriculture.

She went on to bash almost every traditional commodity and interest group that has influenced agricultural policy for the last several decades and called for major changes in cropping patterns. Hardly any ox remained ungored.

In this week’s Open Mic interview, we asked Merrigan about her focus at USDA and tried to provide a better understanding of her role. To listen, go to or to download on your PDA, click here:

But now, lots of folks are reading that chapter and wondering: What else should we know about the Deputy? And what else don’t we know about the new agenda at USDA?

We have asked our readers to read and react. Let us know your thoughts on how USDA is doing.

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