Former congressman Mike Espy, who served as Agriculture Secretary during the Clinton administration, has made it official. The Democrat announced last week that he’s running for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi recently vacated by Republican Thad Cochran. The state's Republican governor, Phil Bryant, appointed state Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith to replace him. A non-partisan special election for the seat will be held on Nov. 4. Besides Hyde-Smith, Espy will be running against GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton, a conservative Democrat. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in a run-off election. If elected, Espy would be the first African-American to represent Mississippi in the Senate since Reconstruction.

Newly sworn-in Sen. Hyde-Smith, meanwhile, has been busy selecting her senior staff. Brad White, who served as Cochran's chief of staff, will continue in that position under Hyde-Smith. John G. Campbell was named deputy chief of staff for administration, while Daniel Ulmer is deputy chief of staff for policy. Campbell previously was Hyde-Smith's deputy ag commissioner in Mississippi, while Ulmer was Cochran's deputy legislative director. Tim Wolverton, who was Cochran's military legislative assistant and senior policy adviser, is now Hyde-Smith's legislative director, and Umesh Sanjanwala, a special assistant to Hyde-Smith since 2012, is now her state director.

So who's going to fill Cochran's position on Senate Appropriations? It's Richard Shelby of Alabama, who was confirmed Tuesday as the panel's new chairman. Shelby, currently head of the Rules Committee, is the first senator from Alabama to head the Appropriations Committee, which was formed in 1867. 

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld joined the Board of Advisors for Acreage Holdings, one of the nation's largest, multi-state actively-managed cannabis corporations. In a joint statement, the men said, “we both believe the time has come for serious consideration of a shift in federal marijuana policy,” citing conflicts between state and federal policy and “increased awareness of marijuana's many medical applications,” especially for veterans.

The White House says President Trump will appoint Deputy Ag Secretary Steve Censky as vice chairman of the Commodity Credit Corporation’s board of directors. Censky’s boss, Sonny Perdue, is the ex-officio board chairman. USDA’s top lawyer, Stephen Vaden, is also being appointed to the board, as are USDA undersecretaries Ted McKinney, Greg Ibach and Bill Northey. The CCC is managed by a seven-member board, in addition to the USDA secretary, and all members must be USDA officials. The government-owned entity was created to stabilize, support and protect farm income and prices. It also helps maintain balanced and adequate supplies of agricultural commodities and aids in their orderly distribution.

Chris Hogan has joined the Sugar Association as its vice president of communications. Most recently, Hogan was vice president of communications and public Affairs for Growth Energy, representing America’s biofuel producers and supporters as an industry thought leader. He held similar communications leadership positions with the International Bottled Water Association and the American Gas Association.

Bryan Jernigan was named director of communications for the U.S. Grains Council. He previously worked for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools and the Sugar Association. Jernigan succeeds Melissa Kessler, who was promoted to USGC’s director of strategic relations.  

Kaitlin Carpenter is the new marketing and communications manager for the American Seed Trade Association. Previously, Carpenter worked as social media and communications planner for the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau in California.

Jamison Cruce has joined the USA Rice Federation as a manager of government affairs. The University of Georgia grad is a former employee of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Georgia Peanut Commission.

U.S. Wheat Associates has hired a new technologist to work out of its South Asian Region Office in Singapore. Kong Song (Ivan) Goh, who specializes in biscuits, baking and noodles, joined USW from FFM Berhad (Federal Flour Mills) in West Port Klang, Malaysia.

The National Bison Association (NBA) hired Karen Conley on a part-time basis to fill the newly created position of director of communications and outreach. Conley, of Box Elder, S.D., recently completed nearly two decades as the executive director for the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association and served on the NBA board of directors for five years, first as a director for her region and the last two years as the secretary/treasurer.

Bill Whitacre, CEO of the Boise, Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co., says he’s retiring at the end of August. He’s stepping down following an 18-year career with the privately held agribusiness, the past nine as chief executive, during which time he oversaw an increase in revenues from approximately $4.5 billion to $6 billion today. The company says it expects to select its next CEO from internal candidates.  

Congratulations to Mary Holz-Clause, who was officially inaugurated last week as chancellor of the University of Minnesota-Crookston. Holz-Clause has actually been running the campus since last spring following the retirement of Fred Wood. She came to UM-Crookston from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, where she has served as dean of the Huntley College of Agriculture and as a tenured professor in the Department of Agricultural Business Management and Agriculture Science.

Allen Merrill, a dairy farmer from Parker, S.D., was reelected recently as chairman of the Midwest Dairy Association, which administers a dairy checkoff program. Charles Krause of Buffalo, Minn., was reelected as vice chair. Dairy farmers in the Midwest invest 15 cents for every 100 pounds of milk they sell, and Midwest Dairy receives 10 cents of this mandatory funding for regional programs. The remaining 5 cents goes to the National Dairy Board to fund national promotional, research and export programs.

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