OK, you asked … so tonight I'm gonna rank all 30 U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture.

Starting with the worst Agriculture Secretary, counting down to the best.

This is a personal ranking, based on a variety of factors such as ideology, & competence.


#30 Ezra Benson - An opponent of civil rights, conspiracy theorist, and uniformed blunderer, he opposed the work of his own Agriculture department because he believed it was “socialism” to regulate farming and food production. After he left office, he became the Mormon Pope.

#29 Earl Butz - Helped pioneer the overproduction of corn, and accelerated the junkification of the American diet. Created conditions for increased corporatization of farming. Made comments so racist and obscene that he was forced to resign.

#28 Mike Johanns - George W. Bush’s second AgSec, Johanns is best remembered for mishandling the mad cow crisis, but he was also terrible for his promotion of ethanol subsidies. Currently in the US Senate.
#27 John Knebel - After Earl Butz’ disastrous time as AgSec, Knebel was only in office for about a year. Although less racist than Butz, Knebel was just as wrong-headed on policy, and continued to wreak damage on American farms and on the national diet.
#26 Arthur Hyde - As AgSec to Herbert Hoover, Hyde made enemies everywhere he went. Whether it was insulting legislators by calling them “wild men,” or calling farmers “hysterical,” he was confrontational and ineffective.

Also mostly ignored the dust bowl.
#25 Sonny Perdue - Deregulation was the name of the game for Mr. Perdue. Suppressed scientific publications, was fined for using his office for political purposes. Hired political hacks into jobs they had no ability to perform. On the plus side, he did endorse a carbon tax.
#24 Mike Espy - Served for just over a year before resigning because he was indicted for taking improper gifts. On the positive side, he made it easier for aquaponics operators to operate, while ensuring they were held to decent environmental standards. Not terrible.
#23 Richard Lyng - The only former AgSec to be inducted into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, Lyng was appointed based on his experience as an industry lobbyist. His short tenure was marked by mostly ineffective attempts to privatize and deregulate.
#22 Dan Glickman - Led safety reforms for food inspection in the wake of the 1993 E. Coli outbreak. Unfortunately, crucial portions of his safety plan were overturned by the Supreme Court. Glickman wasn’t a bad guy, but it is kind of weird that he gets to vote on the Oscars.
#21 Edward Madigan - The enigmatic Mr. Madigan was rocked by financial impropriety. But he focused on innovation and research. Under his leadership, the department started several highly successful programs to find new uses for farm products.
#20 Julius Morton - Arbor Day-founder Morton was also a defender of slavery, despite being from a Northern state. Near the end of his life as AgSec, he set up national forest reservations, started farmer support programs, and once tried to make it illegal to have a Christmas Tree
#19 Clayton Yeutter - The guy behind modern handling requirements for eggs to prevent food-borne illnesses, Clayton Yeutter was a nerd about agricultural policy. Sadly, his term was marred by the reduction of Conservation Reserve Programs.
#18 Ed Shafer - The only former AgSec to have appeared as a contestant on a reality TV show (Junkyard Wars), Shafer was surprisingly decent. Oversaw significant action to prevent cruelty towards animals in the meat industry. Took action on food safety
#17 Tom Vilsack - America’s only AgSec to serve non-consecutive terms, Vilsack has been a defender of “pink slime,” the processed meat used in fast food. Otherwise a solid record on tightening of agricultural runoff regulations, improvements to bioethics rules on GMOs.
#16 Charles Brannan - Brannan is best-remembered for his solid (but failed) plan to create stable prices for farmers by using the government as a purchasing board. Fought with senate Republicans, who accused him of mismanaging the potato price-support program.
#15 William Jardine - If there’s one thing that Jardine knew, it was dirt. The man loved soil, and was a dirt expert respected by farmers and academics alike. Helped found and promote the farm co-operative movement, and helped reinvigorate U.S. agriculture in the post-WW1 slump.
#14 Norman Coleman - The OG Secretary of Agriculture also had the shortest tenure in the role - Just 18 days. He’d previously been the commissioner of agriculture, where did a heck load of good, including helping create the Hatch Act; so his legacy is providing rural education.
#13 Clifford Hardin - One of the only AgSecs who took on industrial megafarms and won, Hardin passed the 1970 farm bill that capped subsidies on the largest producers. He also extended the food stamp program, created the Food and Nutrition Service (a poverty-reduction program).
#12 Bob Bergland - Bergland was a crucial team player in the Carter administration, taking the heat for unpopular but necessary decisions and fighting inflationary changes in farm laws. When protesters stormed the ag building, Bergland personally went to them and listened.
#11 John Block - Regan’s first AgSec, Block was a leader in promoting public education about food and agriculture. He worked with seven of his predecessors in creating the successful Agriculture in the Classrooms program, which is now operating in all 50 US states & Canada.
#10 Claude Wickard - AgSec during the Second World War, Wickward promoted victory gardens, banned the sale of pre-sliced bread, and increased U.S. production of food as a tool for helping win the war. Struggled to keep prices stable at home, and made enemies in the industry.
#9 David Houston - Houston had significant legislative achievements. Some of these (the Smith-Lever act for land grant universities, the Federal Aid Road Act) were successful, while others (the Warehouse Act) had negative unintended consequences.
#8 James Wilson - For more than sixteen years and under three presidents, James Wilson led the Agriculture Department. With him, the ministry began food inspections, invested in infrastructure, modernized ag methods. He also fought for big business on the safety of food additives
#7 Edwin Meredith - A populist at heart, Meredith was only AgSec for somewhat less than a year. But he used the time well, helping promote midwestern cheesemaking as an art at a time when Europe still looked down on American curds.
#6 Jeremiah Rusk - Rusk took over as AgSec only a few weeks after the position had been elevated to the cabinet level, so it fell on him to organize the department. He was successful, helping discover the cause of hog cholera, and developing sorghum as a sugar-producing plant.
#5 Ann Veneman - Bush’s first AgSec, Veneman led improvement and expansion of the food stamps program. Effective in promoting international trade of US agricultural products. Led poverty reduction effort. Went on to be the head of UNICEF.
#4 Henry C. Wallace - The substantial professionalization of agricultural economics is the greatest legacy of the elder Wallace, who was AgSec under Harding and Coolidge. Expanded the role of the department and helped stabilize production and pricing.
#3 Orville Freeman - America’s youngest AgSec’s signature accomplishment was the Food Stamp act of 1964. He also created school breakfast programs for the poor, helped bring water and sewer systems to rural areas, and strengthened food-safety protections. The near-perfect AgSec.
#2 Henry A. Wallace - Fought for the rights of underpaid and exploited farmworkers, helped alleviate Great Depression through agricultural reforms, created the first food stamp program that helped four million people survive the depression, created a massive reforestation plan.
#1 Clinton Anderson - Faced with one of the greatest food-related crises ever tackled by an AgSec, Anderson probably saved more lives than almost everyone else on this list put together. In the post-WW2 global food shortage, Anderson streamlined food distribution and planning.
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