Tom Vilsack, Obama’s pick for USDA chief, made pleasant conversation Wednesday with his new (and old) best friends on the Senate Agriculture, Forestry, and Nutrition Committee. As a confirmation hearing, the event had about as much drama as a John Deere combine gliding through a vast field, harvesting corn. The process was smooth and efficient, and no one seemed to break a sweat.

I watched much of the hearing live via a stream on the committee website. About the closest thing to genuine tension I saw came from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who seemed worried that Vilsack might support limits on subsidies to his beloved cotton farmers. (Chambliss worships free markets — unless and until they interfere with the flow of government cash to his cotton cronies.)

Vilsack did say some encouraging stuff, including (from Congressional Quarterly):

“It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets … that means supporting those who supply those products" and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products, Vilsack said.

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He also declared he would "work with those who seek programs and practices that lead to more nutritious food produced in a sustainable way" — perhaps a nod to the kind of critiques of ag policy found on this website and other sustainable-ag sources.

He riffed a lot about biofuels and how awesome they are — and how they need ongoing government support because … you know, they’re so awesome. Here’s Reuters:

At several points, Vilsack said he would use Agriculture Department programs to encourage production of biofuels and to bring to market new feedstocks …

"This is an industry that is in some difficulty," Vilsack said, referring to hard times for ethanol distillers due to the U.S. recession and less demand for fuel. "Margins are quite small, even for the best producers."

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That last bit seems to augur support for the bailout ethanol makers have been clamoring for — which would mean an additional influx of taxpayer cash to an industry that already owns a virtual monopoly on government support for "alternative energy."

The committee will likely move the nomination to the Senate floor before next Tuesday’s inauguration, and Vilsack is expected to encounter no opposition.

Given the bruising nature of this confirmation fight, thank goodness those organic execs and activists banded together to launch that "support Vilsack" website!

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