Agriculture has Friends in High Places…Finally

Friends in high Places…this is Inside Agriculture on the Southern Farm network and I’M Mike Davis. It may or may not come as no surprise to those in agriculture that there was no voice for agriculture in the previous administration. But this week the White House announced that North Carolina native Ray Starling has been appointed as the Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade, and Food Assistance. Starling had most recently served as chief of staff to US Senator Thom Tillis. Before that, he was general counsel in the Republican’s Senate office and in the office of N.C. House Speaker. He was general counsel at the N.C. Department of Agriculture  before working for Tillis.

Colin Woodall, Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, praised the appointment:

“We’re real excited for Ray because it will be a great opportunity for him professionally to be in this position, to have such close proximity to the president, to be a part of the mechanism that’s behinds the scenes of making this country work. Great, great opportunity for him and he greatly deserves it. But also, selfishly, it’s a great opportunity for us in agriculture because we have somebody who knows agriculture who’s going to be in there, fighting for us (and) advocating on our behalf , and more importantly someone who is going to be willing to pick up the phone and talk to us. That’s more than we had with the last administration. So we are just absolutely thrilled that there’s somebody who’s actually going to be sitting in the White House that is focused on nothing more than just looking out for agriculture.”

Woodall says the drastic change in direction with the Trump administration from the previous White House is stark:

“Agriculture just was not a priority, and when agriculture issues did pop up they were ones that most mainstream people just didn’t like. Things like the Organic Rule, for example, GIPSA Country of origin labeling. So agriculture just wasn’t a high priority for President Obama. It’s obvious from what we’ve already seen from President Trump that he has a much different approach to agriculture and rural America as a whole. We weren’t surprised that this position wasn’t filled in the previous administration, but very pleasantly surprised that President (Trump) decided to go ahead and put that in as one of his key positions and do it fairly early in the process. There’s still a lot of cabinet officials that haven’t been confirmed yet, but yet we now have Ray over there at the White House.”

Working in a government appointment is never seen as a long-term assignment, but Woodall expects Starling to not only be effective, but valuable to the White House:

“All of these positions, whether it’s Ray position or any others, serve at the pleasure of the president. So while you would look at this as being a four-year job, there is also the opportunity for the president to go in another direction, and any appointee needs to be aware of. But given Ray’s track record, what he’s done for Senator Tillis and for agriculture, I doubt there’s any scenario where the president would ask him to go. It would probably be more of a situation where the president tries to keep him on board because the president is going to know when he talks to Ray that he’s going to get solid counsel, great advice, and more importantly, the information he’s going to get is going to be based on first-hand knowledge and talking to people as well.”

Senator Tillis said of Starling, “There is simply no one better qualified than Ray to advise the President on agriculture and trade policy. Ray has been a lifelong champion for North Carolina’s agricultural industry, and he will now play a major role in fulfilling the administration’s plans to support our nation’s farmers and ranchers and revitalize rural America.”

That’s Inside Agriculture…I’m md.


A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.