St. PAUL, Minn. – Speaking at a dairy farm in Hastings on January 3, Governor Tim Walz announced his pick to lead the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Thom Petersen, of Royalton Township, will take on the mantel of Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture.
“With more than a decade of experience at the Minnesota Farmers Union, Thom Petersen understands how policy directly affects farmers’ daily lives,” said Walz during the announcement. “We’re looking forward to working with him as our incoming Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture to ensure our farmers can compete in the global marketplace.”
Since 2002, Petersen has served as the director of government relations for Minnesota Farmers Union, and it was a tough decision for him to pursue and apply for the Commissioner’s position.
“I waited until after our Farmer's Union convention, which is about three weeks in (after the election),” said Petersen during a recent phone interview. “Having been at Farmer's Union for 16 years, it was a job I loved, but the more I looked at the opportunity, I decided I wanted to step forward and go through the process.”
His experience working for the Farmer’s Union in both St. Paul and Washington D.C., will be vital as he navigates his new office.
As far as policy and plans for the MDA, Petersen is not planning on making any major changes just yet.
“I think you will see a lot of similarities and a lot of alignments between Commissioner Frederickson and myself,” he said. “I do not see a lot of different moves, I think we will be continuing to build on a lot of the things that Commissioner Frederickson started.”
Frederickson was very active in developing markets for Minnesota grown products, both on a state and global-basis, including alternative uses. Under his leadership, the B20 rule was implemented that requires diesel fuel to be blended 20 percent with biodiesel from soybeans during the summer months.
The support for biofuels will continue from both Petersen and Governor Walz.
“Governor Walz has always been a strong backer of biofuels,” he said. “I saw the roll out of B20 and have been active with that as I worked with Farmers Union, it is something that we support and something I'm glad to see Governor Walz be supportive of.”
Increasing in-state demand and value-added products are important, but there will always be a need for out-of-state and global markets.
“Our trading partners are very important to us and continuing to have a robust program of trade here at the department,” Petersen said. “Also working with our commodity organizations who also are very actively engaged in trading and being good partners with them. Also, our companies in the state, whether it's CHS or other companies, working with them and being a good partner.”
Petersen is looking forward to working with farmers in his new office. He resides in farm country and, as he said, takes five gravel roads to get to work every day. His friends and neighbors are active farmers.
“My goal is really as simple as our mission at the Department of Agriculture and that really just starts with improving the quality of life of our farmers in Minnesota,” he said. “At the same time, ensuring a safe food supply.”
When facing issue of trade, farm protection programs or environmental health, Petersen wants to communicate with the farmers of this state, highlighting the good work that they do.
“I want to be accessible and open to farmers. If they have questions or ideas, I want them to contact me. My number and email will be on the state website,” said Petersen. “We are excited about the prospects of working for Governor Walz and the people of Minnesota.”