SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)–A member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is the first Native American to serve as the USDA’s Administrator of the Farm Service Agency.  Zach Ducheneaux began his new position on February 22.

“I think it speaks volumes for the vision of the Biden administration and Secretary Vilsack’s leadership to come in just a decade from settling a lawsuit with Native Americans to having a Native American lead the organization that was actually being sued…it’s really a monumental honor that I get to hold,” Ducheneaux said.

Ducheneaux lives on a cattle and horse ranch location on the Cheyenne River Reservation. He has been running his operation, The DX Ranch, since 1993 and he is preparing for the next generation to take over, which will be the forth generation.

Before becoming Administrator, Ducheneaux held a variety of leadership roles including Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Vice Chair of the board of the Northwest Area Foundation and serving on the Tribal Council for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from 2000-2004.

Ducheneaux said being Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council was his dream job, and it was a tough decision to move on, but overall, he is excited for the work he will do in his new role.

“It still feels like a dream come true,” Ducheneaux said.

When we spoke to him, he had held the position for 14 days.

“It has been a tremendous amount of information,” Ducheneaux said. “I came into the job with a good idea about the farm loan programs and some of the disaster assistance programs but there’s so much that goes on here. So many knowledgable, dedicated, hardworking people ensuring that we get all of the programs out to people. It’s really been a steep learning curve but I’m starting to get my mind around it.”

As head of the Farm Service Agency, Ducheneaux is charged with carrying forward the initiatives of the administration and Secretary Vilsack.

“President Biden has laid out a very ambitious, climate-smart agenda, really aimed at building local and regional food systems and bringing equity to the entire realm of services offered by the federal government,” Ducheneaux said. “And as important as any of those is, getting into a recovery from the pandemic; as the agency lead, our job is to bring that perspective to the policy decisions that are out there with regard to our programs and service delivery.”

Ducheneaux said he hopes to take the agency in a direction where they start to look at investing in agriculture and get away from lending and borrowing. He wants people to realize that agriculture is a valuable investment opportunity if they can find a way to get the capital out there that our producers need to be empowered to take control of things like climate-smart agriculture, local food system development and more equitable treatment across the spectrum.

“I think there’s got to be a voice for the producer,” Ducheneaux said. “One of the things that I bring to the table is my boots are still dirty, we are running a ranch.”

He is one of the first cattle ranchers to hold this position. Ducheneaux said often times those in the livestock segment of the industry struggle to find ways to get the assistance that they need, some of the safety net programs that those in the crop industry have.

“I think having that leadership that understands that perceptive is going to be helpful,” Ducheneaux said.

Ducheneaux is looking forward to getting out in the country once the we get past the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing some of the agricultural production and visiting some of the land-grant universities.