Johanns Picked to Head USDA

President Bush on Thursday announced that he has chosen Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns (search) to be the new secretary of agriculture to oversee the nation's farm and food programs.

"As a son of Iowa dairy farmers, he grew up close to the land," Bush said in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in announcing his nomination. "He will bring to this position a lifetime of involvement in agriculture and a long record as a faithful friend to America's farmers and ranchers."

A Republican, Johanns, 54, also took the podium crediting his farm experience.

"I'm very proud of my ag background. I do feel that those years on that dairy farm did much to define who I am as a person," he said.

Johanns thanked the president, saying it's "a privilege and an honor" to be nominated.

"Mr. President, you've said agriculture is the cornerstone of our economy and the strength of agriculture contributes to the strength of our great nation," Johanns continued. "If confirmed by the Senate, I look forward to advancing your rural agenda for the 21st century."

If confirmed, Johanns, whose gubernatorial term is set to end in 2007, would succeed Ann M. Veneman (search), who recently announced her resignation despite saying earlier that she wanted to stay.

Bush thanked Veneman for her role in getting the 2002 farm bill passed; pushing school nutrition programs; helping prevent the spread of mad cow disease (search) in the country; working to secure the nation's food supply against bioterrorism threats; and helping to set in motion the healthy forests initiatives aimed at protecting the nation's woods against wildfires.

Veneman "has earned the trust of farmers and ranchers across America," Bush said.

During 2002, Veneman disclosed that she had been diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer. She underwent a lumpectomy, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy. She has since been given a clean bill of health. Bush hailed her for diligently serving her country despite her illness.

"I chose Ann Veneman for her great expertise, her sound judgment and her bipartisan spirit and she has displayed those qualities every day of her tenure," the president said. "I'm proud to know her and I thank her for serving our country."

While governor of Nebraska, Johanns said he worked closely with Veneman on a variety of issues. "I look forward to building on her good work," he said.

Veneman issued a statement praising the president's decision.

"The president selected an outstanding leader today who has a distinguished career in public service and a clear understanding of agriculture and farm policies," Veneman said. "I offer my full support to the governor during this transition and as he begins his tenure at USDA."

Nebraska is the nation's fourth-largest agricultural state. Johanns currently serves as co-lead governor for the Western Governors’ Association (search) on drought issues and is a past chair of the Midwest Governors Conference (search).

Bush, who called Johanns a friend, has known Johanns since the president's time as governor of Texas.

As governor, some of Johann's initiatives have included pushing incentives for business growth and job creation in rural and urban areas of Nebraska and an emphasis on value-added agriculture, especially ethanol.

"I know firsthand his deep commitment" to agriculture, Bush said, specifically citing the Nebraska official's strong commitment to furthering the use of ethanol and biodiesel products.

"Governor Johanns is a man of action and complete integrity," the president said. "He knows how to bring people together to achieve results. He has been a superb leader for the people of Nebraska."

So far, seven members of Bush's 15-member Cabinet have announced they won't be part of the second term. More are expected, and administration officials say Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson (search) could be next. Among the Cabinet officials soon departing, Johanns is the first white male nominated as a replacement during Bush's second term.

Johanns was sworn into office as Nebraska’s 38th governor on Jan. 7, 1999 and in November 2002 became the first Republican to be re-elected governor of Nebraska since 1956.

He was born in Iowa and raised on a dairy farm, graduated from St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minn., and earned his law degree from Creighton University (search) in Omaha, Neb.

Johanns began practicing law in Nebraska and sought public office for the first time in 1982 and was elected to a four-year term on the Lancaster county board of commissioners. Johanns was elected to the Lincoln City Council in 1989 and two years later he successfully challenged the incumbent mayor of Lincoln. In 1995, Johanns was re-elected mayor without opposition.

From 2002 to 2003, he chaired the National Governors’ Association Committee on Economic Development and Commerce, a post he also held in 2000-2001. In 2003, Johanns served as chairman of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership and served as the state government representative on the advisory committee to the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Johanns has two children and is married to Stephanie Johanns, who is currently a vice president at ALLTEL, a communications company.

FOX News' Liza Porteus and Wendell Goler contributed to this report.