Douglas appoints new Agriculture Secretary

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has appointed a federal official with a lengthy background in Vermont farm issues to be the state’s new Agriculture Secretary.

Roger Allbee will leave his post at the Vermont director of the federal Farm Services Agency. He says the agriculture sector faces many challenges, but has great potential as well.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Douglas reached out to someone whose resume is remarkably similar to the man he replaces.

Like former Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr, Roger Allbee has worked on Capitol Hill and in the private sector. And both officials ran the Vermont office of the federal Farm Services Agency. Allbee took over the post after Kerr was appointed to the state position four years ago.

Now it’s Allbee’s turn in Montpelier. The governor described the new secretary as knowledgeable – and passionate – about farm issues.

(Douglas) “I sought someone whose vision is consistent with mine and who would, in every case, demand that our agriculture economy be included in every discussion we have about the economic future of our state.”

(Dillon) Allbee says his enthusiasm for farming began in childhood. He grew up on a hill farm in Brookline in Windham County, where his grandfather kept about 28 cows. The family’s story in a way parallels the history of the dairy industry. Like many farmers at the time, Allbee’s grandfather gave up milking cows in the 1960s rather than investing in a new bulk tank to hold the milk.

In the past year, dairy farmers faced record low prices and bad weather that ruined crops. In the Statehouse, conventional farmers and organic growers feuded over regulation of genetically modified seeds.

Allbee said he’d try to unite all farmers.

(Allbee) “We’re all going to work together in positive ways. We’re going to work together jointly to see if we can not only build prosperity through new products but in ways that can build relationships between all groups to address common problems that they all need to address.”

(Dillon) Allbee’s experience in Washington should prove critical in the coming year as Congress rewrites the Farm Bill.

Dan Smith is a lawyer who worked in the 1990s on dairy compact legislation, which allowed farmers to earn a higher, regional price for milk. Smith is now working with a variety of groups on the 2007 Farm Bill.

(Smith) “I think Roger’s experience of having worked for the House Ag staff combined with his knowledge of at-home Vermont issues is a remarkable combination of talents to bring to bear with the Farm Bill coming up next year. This Farm Bill is absolutely pivotal to the future of Vermont agriculture and Governor Douglas could not have picked a more qualified person to be secretary at this point.”

(Dillon) The 61-year-old Allbee has a family history in agriculture – and in state government as well. His twin brother Ron served as Deputy Agriculture Commissioner under Republican Governor Richard Snelling, and later as commissioner for Democrat Madeleine Kunin.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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