A U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee majority on Thursday approved the nomination of Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns as U.S. agriculture secretary, according to a Dow Jones report.

Johanns is the first of President George W. Bush's second-term nominees to clear a Senate committee. The action virtually guarantees that the full Senate will confirm Johanns to succeed Ann Veneman and become the nation's secretary of agriculture.

Eleven of the 20 senators present voted to approve the nomination. Because the panel originally planned to vote later, the roll call was held open to allow the rest to vote.

During the hearing, Senate Democrats asked Johanns to reconsider the Bush administration's decision last week to open U.S. borders to Canadian cattle despite a fresh case of mad cow disease in Alberta. "I am far from convinced that Canada is effectively enforcing its own regulations," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told Johanns at a hearing by the Senate Agriculture Committee on his nomination.

Johanns promised the panel he would adhere to the values he learned growing up on an Iowa dairy farm. "I will always be a farmer's son with an intense passion for agriculture," he said.

As Nebraska's governor, Johanns helped develop recommendations from western and midwestern states that became part of the 2002 farm law, and he advocated for a system that would warn farmers earlier and prepare them better for drought. He also developed a bill of rights for workers in the meatpacking industry.