Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack clocked his final day on Jan. 13 as the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a post he has held for the last eight years. In line with media reports, Vilsack has accepted the position of president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). He will assume the role beginning Feb. 1.
USDEC is a nonprofit, independent organization that seeks to enhance 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,” Vilsack said. “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.”
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.
“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 pre-eminent 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 Assn. 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.
“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 USDEC chairman Paul Rovey, an 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% of U.S. milk production to a high of 15.5%.
“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,” DMI’s Gallagher noted.
USDEC has more than 100 dairy industry, dairy exporter and affiliated entity members. Its work is supported by staff across the U.S. and internationally in Mexico, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.