Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will become the new CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) effective February 1, 2017. USDEC is a non-profit, independent organization that seeks to enhance the global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients.
“Growing the global market for U.S. dairy products is essential to the future of the dairy industry and America’s dairy farmers. I’ve spent my career in public service as a tireless advocate for farmers and American agriculture and can think of no better way to continue this service than by leading the U.S. Dairy Export Council,” said Vilsack. “I look forward to partnering with the dynamic team at USDEC as well as agriculture, food industry and key stakeholders at home and abroad to advance the council’s mission and strengthen trust in American dairy.”
Rumors swirled recently regarding Secretary Vilsack’s next position, including rumors that he was joining USDEC. Analysts speculated that Vilsack’s knowledge and rapport with export partners as well as his connections within the dairy industry made him a logical fit for the role at USDEC.
Vilsack appears eager to move on to the next chapter in his career, announcing Monday that he would be leaving his post as Ag Secretary effective this Friday, January 20. Vilsack has voiced his displeasure with the Trump administration in their delay in finding his replacement.
As president and CEO, Vilsack will provide strategic leadership and oversight of USDEC’s global promotional and research activities, regulatory affairs and trade policy initiatives. This includes working with industry leaders to develop a long-term vision for building sales and consumer trust in U.S. dairy. Together with the USDEC board, he will create strategies to successfully achieve the shared vision. He will serve as the organization’s primary spokesperson and ambassador to a host of global and domestic stakeholders.
Moving forward in his new role promoting export markets for U.S. dairy products, Vilsack will need to establish relationships with a presidential administration poised to carve a new trade landscape. During his campaign and since his election, President-elect Trump has vowed to change existing free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and stop pending agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. Instead Trump and his transition team advocates more bilateral trade agreements negotiated with individual countries as trading partners.
“The global dairy market is more competitive today than ever. Ambitious trade agreements, reasonable labeling and product standards, and other issues are vital to the growth of America’s dairy industry,” noted Thomas Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), the umbrella organization that represents the broad interests of U.S. dairy and founded USDEC in 1995. “Secretary Vilsack’s impressive record of leadership and his proven ability to manage complex issues, combined with his breadth and depth of industry knowledge, made him the preeminent choice to take the helm of USDEC. I look forward to working with him.”
USDEC routinely partners with other dairy industry groups such as the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation to address the needs of its members, which include producers, processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. An important component of Vilsack’s role will be working with and through these organizations to achieve results on behalf of the value chain.
“I look forward to working with my friend Secretary Tom Vilsack as he takes over the leadership of the U.S. Dairy Council,” says Michael Dykes, the new International Dairy Foods Association CEO citing the need for organizations to work together within the industry to take advantage of export opportunities.
“Secretary Vilsack is a proven leader on global issues ranging from child nutrition and food security to biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. He shares the dairy community’s commitment to advancing responsible solutions to global challenges and collaboration across the industry,” said Paul Rovey, USDEC Chairman and Arizona dairy farmer.
Vilsack will succeed Tom Suber, who served as president of USDEC since its founding in 1995, and retired at the end of 2016. Under Suber’s leadership, global U.S. dairy exports showed significant growth, rising from the equivalent of roughly 5 percent of U.S. milk production to a high of 15.5 percent.
“We thank Tom Suber for his tremendous contributions to the growth of U.S. dairy exports and elevating U.S. dairy’s position globally. He leaves an impressive legacy at USDEC,” noted DMI’s Gallagher.
Trade is critical to strong milk prices, as around 15% of U.S. dairy products are sold through export markets.