(Jan. 27, STAFF EDITORIAL) Early fears that new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will favor program crops over specialty crop interests appear to be unfounded.

In his Senate confirmation hearing in mid-January (he was confirmed on inauguration day without controversy), the former Iowa governor emphasized the importance of access and availability of fresh produce in nutrition programs, including the school lunch program.

His attention to the country’s rising obesity problem should benefit the produce industry in direct and indirect ways.

He also said he’ll encourage locally grown programs, but there were no details on how he might do that.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has said reauthorization of the school lunch and other child nutrition programs is the top priority in 2009, and his close relationship with the secretary should serve the effort well.

The industry should take pride that fresh fruits and vegetables took such a prominent place in the confirmation process of the agriculture secretary. The industry’s efforts to raise its profile are paying off.

That’s change we can believe in.