Gov.-elect Mark Dayton on Tuesday named Dave Frederickson as Minnesota's next agriculture commissioner.
Frederickson served two terms as a DFL state senator in the 1980s and 1990s and was president of the National Farmer's Union. His most recent job was in Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office.
Frederickson will replace Gene Hugoson, who served for 15 years as agriculture commissioner. Frederickson is Dayton's second cabinet appointment so far.
Implementing budget cuts will be the toughest part of his new position, he said. The state is facing a $6.2 billion deficit.
"The big challenge is going to be a financial challenge, and how to maintain the programs that are statutorily required and how to maintain resources to carry out those responsibilities," Frederickson said.
Frederickson said he needs to look at the Department of Agriculture's balance sheet before recommending any specific cuts. Despite the looming cuts, he said food safety will remain a top priority.
"We are the lead agency for food safety in Minnesota," he said. "That's a big deal. And we want to make sure that the department is adequately funded to make sure that mandate is carried out."
Dayton and lawmakers should keep spending on food safety programs intact, said Hugoson.
"I have been very reluctant to make any significant cuts in that area," the outgoing commissioner said.
Hugoson said high grain prices pushed partly by demand from China have been a boon to Minnesota's farm sector overall, but he said high prices are not good for all farmers.
"Probably the area that is facing the most stress would be the dairy industry," Hugoson said. "Somewhat because of the higher grain prices and feed costs, but then at the same time dairy prices that the farmers receive are not necessarily that high."
Hugoson said his most memorable moment as Minnesota agriculture commissioner was his first trade mission to Cuba, when he attended a meeting with former Cuban President Fidel Castro and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
While the trips garnered a lot of attention, Hugoson said major economic and political reforms are needed on the island nation before American farmers can benefit from any business relationship.