(Dec. 12, 5:12 p.m.) It was all speculation and no confirmation related to the next secretary of agriculture the week of Dec. 8, but produce lobbyists say there are plenty of other issues to tend to.

Finalizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture appropriations for the farm bill’s implementation, immigration reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, health care reform and food safety issues were among the topics farm lobbyists were spending time on in December.

President-elect Barack Obama still had not named his choice for agriculture secretary by Dec. 11, but his transition team did meet with farm and produce industry leaders the week of Dec. 8.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in a United Fresh e-mail newsletter that the Dec. 8 two-hour meeting included meat, dairy and other commodity group sectors.

Guenther said he discussed implementation of the 2008 farm bill, food safety challenges and the effect of immigration policy on the produce industry.

Tara Smith, lobbyist for the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, said agriculture groups are prodding the USDA to implement farm bill regulations, including rules on farm bill payment limits and advance payments.

Any unfinished business will put more pressure on the Obama administration, with growers trying to get credit for their operations and farm program rules are set, she said.

“There is a lot of work on their plate, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion,” Smith said.

Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs in Western Growers’ Washington, D.C., office, said there is no indication if Obama will tap a beltway insider or go to farm country for the next agriculture secretary.

Media reports include on the list of potential agriculture secretary candidates:

  • Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania agriculture secretary;

  • Tom Buis, president of Washington, D.C.-based National Farmers Union;

  • former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas;

  • Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.;

  • Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; and

  • former Rep. Jill Long Thompson, D-Ind.

Western Growers is focused on securing full funding for industry-related farm bill programs, she said.

The association also was concentrating its efforts on opposing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make unionization easier. That could come up for consideration early in the Obama administration. Health care reform is also an issue that Western Growers will follow closely, because the association has a division that provides health care services for growers and their employees.