Senate confirms Trump's agriculture secretary

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[April 25, 2017]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, leaving all but one of President Donald Trump's Cabinet positions filled.

Secretary of Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue arrives at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Lawmakers voted 87 to 11 in favor of Perdue, who takes office as the agricultural community grapples with the key issues of trade and immigration.

The nomination earlier passed the Senate Agriculture Committee with only one vote in opposition, although some Midwestern senators raised concerns that Perdue was not from a major agricultural production state.

Trump nominated Perdue, 70, in January but progress on his confirmation was slow, with media reports suggesting that undoing his various business entanglements caused delays in the ethics filings.

Perdue did not file his disclosure forms until mid-March, and the Senate panel backed him later that month.

Trade is seen as critical to reviving a moribund farm economy, where incomes have been falling with lower grain prices. Farm incomes in 2016 are expected to have hit their lowest levels since 2009.

Agriculture relies heavily on seasonal and casual labor, and farmers are concerned tough immigration rules could make it harder to find workers while raising costs. Trump has raised tensions on immigration with his pledge to build a wall at the Mexican-U.S. border.

Perdue, who holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine and was raised on a dairy farm, is the first agriculture secretary from a southern state since Mike Espy of Mississippi, who served from January 1993 to December 1994. Perdue's home state of Georgia accounted for just 2 percent of total U.S. agriculture exports in 2015.

Trump still has one Cabinet nominee, Alexander Acosta for labor secretary, awaiting confirmation.

(Reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Susan Heavey and Andrew Hay)

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