WASHINGTON/CHICAGO — U.S. President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for agriculture secretary, Axios reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Biden transition office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.

Vilsack, who led the U.S. Department of Agriculture under former President Barack Obama, could not immediately be reached. His spokeswoman, Regina Black, declined to comment "as an official announcement hasn't been made."

Vilsack's return to the USDA is likely to be applauded by Midwestern states that produce the bulk of commodity crops like corn, soybeans and wheat, and prefer him to someone from another region of the country.

Changes ahead projected at USDA

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The Farm Belt was battered by President Donald Trump's trade war with China and waivers that exempted oil refiners from obligations to use corn-based ethanol. But Midwestern farmers also received an unprecedented amount of direct farm subsidies under Trump even as coronavirus stimulus for millions of other Americans stalled in Congress.

Farm finances stabilized by government relief and good production

Vilsack, who is chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, actively campaigned for Biden in farm states, acting as his rural and agriculture adviser during the election.

Iowa governor from 1999 to 2007, he is seen by establishment Democrats as a politically safe choice, largely because of his moderate politics, previous experience, and long-standing, friendly relationships with large-scale farmers.

A coalition of progressive food, farming and environmental advocacy groups promoted rival candidates.

Top among them was Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who would have been the first Black woman to fill the role and was expected to increase the department's focus on small farmers, global environmental changes, and racial and economic diversity.

Biden has selected Fudge to be secretary of housing and urban development, Politico reported.

"Vilsack is not what the USDA and our country needs to help make U.S. agriculture more sustainable and resilient in the time of climate crisis," said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety.

(Reporting by Eric Beech, Caroline Stauffer, Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Sonya Hepinstall)