As the Biden administration and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack look to bring an increased focus on farmers mitigating the climate, President Joe Biden has tapped Robert Bonnie to serve as the undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation at USDA.
Bonnie currently serves as Vilsack’s deputy chief of staff and senior climate adviser at USDA and headed up Biden’s transition team at the agency as well. During President Obama's first term, Bonnie served as senior adviser to Vilsack for environment and climate change. During Obama’s second term Bonnie was named the undersecretary for natural resources and environment where he oversaw the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Vilsack says Bonnie is one of the nation’s foremost authorities and leaders on working lands approaches to conservation and incentive-based climate and conservation practices for farmers, ranchers, foresters and landowners.
“Under Robert’s steady hand, America’s farmers, ranchers, producers and landowners will see renewed focus on building and maintaining markets at home and abroad and preparing our food and agricultural community to lead the world in climate-smart agricultural practices,” Vilsack says. “Robert will be committed to working with U.S. farmers and landowners to help feed Americans and the world and make climate smart practices work for them in a market-oriented way—a way that creates new streams of income, a cleaner energy future and a biobased manufacturing revolution.”
Prior to joining USDA, Bonnie was at Duke University, first as a Rubenstein Fellow and later as an executive in residence at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions working on conservation and environmental issues in rural America. In 2020, Bonnie also worked with the Bipartisan Policy Center on its Farm and Forest Carbon Solutions Initiative.
The FPAC division was created during the Perdue administration at USDA in an effort to reorganize the farmer-facing agencies of USDA. FPAC includes the Farm Service Agency, which manages commodity programs and the Conservation Reserve Program; the Risk Management Agency, which administers crop insurance; and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which manages conservation programs other than CRP.
Bonnie received praise from agricultural groups who said he brings a depth of experience and knowledge to the position.
Kevin Scott, soybean farmer from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president says Bonnie has a solid background, having overseen NRCS under the Obama Administration and most recently serving as Vilsack’s chief climate adviser.
“We have appreciated his public service in support of agriculture, and we respect Bonnie’s accessibility and responsiveness to us as farmers,” Scott says. “Just recently, he joined ASA virtually for a conversation during our March board meetings, and we’ve consistently seen this willingness on his part to connect with farmers. We look forward to working with him in this new role after his confirmation.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, says Bonnie’s experience has given him firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing America’s farmers and ranchers. “We appreciate his outreach and engagement with Farm Bureau during his tenure with the Biden administration and we are hopeful he will remain fully engaged with farmers and ranchers in his new role,” Duvall says.
“We look forward to the nomination process and we hope to build on our relationship with Robert to ensure farm, crop and conservation programs allow farmers and ranchers to continue putting food on tables across the country,” Zippy adds.
Prior to joining USDA, Bonnie was vice president for land conservation for the Environmental Defense Fund where he focused on developing incentives to reward farmers, ranchers and forest owners for stewardship activities on private lands. At EDF, Bonnie helped develop the Safe Harbor program and other incentive-based approaches to endangered species conservation.
Bonnie has master degrees in forestry and environmental management from Duke University. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and now lives in Virginia.