(Jan. 31) With only one year left in the Bush administration and the long-delayed farm bill still unfinished, Ed Schafer was sworn in Jan. 28 as the 29th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chuck Conner, who has been serving as acting agriculture secretary since former Ag Secretary Mike Johanns stepped down last September, returned to his post as deputy secretary with the confirmation of Schafer.

“We are interested in meeting with (Schafer) and visiting with him about the issues related to fruits and vegetables,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Guenther said Schafer may help budge inaction on the farm bill.

“He will maybe add a new perspective, and that could be helpful to get the stalemate moving,” Guenther said.

The White House has promised to veto both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill now awaiting conference committee action. Conner and the White House have said the farm bills rely on taxes and budget gimmicks to pay for new spending on specialty crop priorities and other farm bill programs.

Guenther said no conference committee members had been named as of Jan. 30, though informal talks are ongoing between House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders.

Lack of progress in identifying revenue to pay for the farm bill without raising tax remains a concern, Guenther said.

The USDA noted Schafer was a two-term governor of North Dakota, (1992-2000), in addition to having extensive private sector experience.

Schafer was born in Bismarck, N.D., and graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.