Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson announced the additions of new staff members and promotions last week. Melinda Cep returns to the committee as legislative and policy director. She most recently served as senior director for the U.S. markets and food team at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). In her past experience on the committee, she served as a fellow during the 2008 Farm Bill. She has also worked at the USDA serving as deputy chief of staff to former secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack. Coming to the committee from the National Association of Conservation Districts, Carlton Bridgeforth joins as professional staff. Jasmine Dickerson has been appointed to serve as staff director for the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. Before coming to the subcommittee, she was the legislative director for Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester. Appointed to serve as staff director for the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research is Brandon Honeycutt. He previously served in the office of California Congressman Jimmy Panetta of California and also served in the office of congressional relations at USDA during the Obama administration. Félix Muñiz, Jr. is brought on to become the staff director for the Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry. Muñiz previously served as a legislative assistant to Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. Ashley Smith also joins the committee to serve as staff director for the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit. She most recently served as the legislative director for Rep. David Scott, D-Ga. Current staff member of the House Ag Committee Mike Stranz was appointed to serve as staff director for the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, and Katie Zenk becomes Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, as well as Economist for the Committee’s Majority staff. Lyron Blum-Evitts is tapped to serve as the committee’s member relations coordinator. Blum-Evitts comes to the committee from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where she served as DCCC’s policy director. Lastly, Mickeala Carter joins as outreach coordinator. Before joining the Committee, she served as communications director and senior legislative assistant to Rep. Filemon Vela D-Texas.

Michawn Rich 2

Michawn Rich

Michawn Rich and Meghan Rogers have moved up to communications director and deputy communications director, respectively, for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. A native Nevadan, Rich has been at USDA since the beginning of the Trump Administration, first serving on the beachhead team. Before coming to the USDA, she worked on Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s senate reelection campaign as communications director and before that worked as deputy communications director for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Rich steps into this position after former communications director Tim Murtaugh moved on to join President Trump’s reelection team. Rodgers has been at the USDA since August 2018 and came to the department from Capitol Hill where she worked as the communications director for Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Flo., and legislative correspondent for Patrick Meehan, R-Penn.

Joel Baxley, acting assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, tapped Chad Rupe to serve as the acting administrator for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, effective April 1. Rupe has served as USDA Rural Development state director of Wyoming since 2017. Prior to being state director, Rupe worked in Rural Development’s community programs in Wyoming.

Settling in to her new position at USDA is Ashley Willits. Willits works in the office of the secretary as an advance lead for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. She hails from upstate New York and is currently finishing her degree while working at USDA. She will graduate in May from Tarleton State University with a degree in Agricultural Communications.

Val Dolcini


California Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Val Dolcini to join the California Environmental Protection Agency as deputy secretary for agriculture. Most recently, Dolcini served as president and CEO for the Pollinator Partnership in Washington, D.C., spearheading efforts to plant milkweed and other pollinator plants in buffer areas to support monarch butterflies. During Dolcini’s career, he served at the USDA Farm Service Agency as state executive director for California, then as FSA administrator from 2014-2017. He also worked as a staffer for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Gov. Gray Davis, Rep. Vic Fazio and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier on in his career.

Arthur Neal

Arthur Neal

USDA appointed Arthur Neal as deputy administrator of the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) under the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). . Since 2011, Arthur has served as the deputy administrator of the AMS Transportation and Marketing Program. Neal led the development of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard in 2017-2018. He spent over ten years at the National Organic Program as associate deputy administrator and also worked several years with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont nominated Bryan Hurlburt to serve as the state commissioner of agriculture. Hurlburt currently serves as executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association. Before that, he was appointed by former president Barack Obama in 2013 to become the executive director of the Connecticut's FSA office. After leaving the Obama administration, Hurlburt worked at Wholesome Wave for a year helping to provide affordable fresh foods to underserved communities before joining Farm Bureau in July 2018.

Eric Wenberg has been named as executive director to the newly formed Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance (SSGA). Wenberg comes to SSGA after retiring as a career member of the Senior Foreign Service and following a 28-year career with USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) serving in American Embassies in Ottawa, Pretoria, Warsaw and Moscow.

Pilgrim’s Pride picked Jayson Penn to succeed Bill Lovette as Global CEO. Lovette announced his retirement earlier this year and will remain available until July 2020 to provide advisory services and ease the transition. Penn joined the company in 2011 and since then has served as Senior Vice President of the Commercial Business Group, Executive Vice President of Sales and Operations most recently as president of Pilgrim’s USA. Penn has also served on the board of directors and the executive committee of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council and currently serves on the board and executive committee of the National Chicken Council and the board of directors of The World Poultry Foundation. Penn brings over 30 years of experience in the poultry industry.

Butterball brings on Peter Brown as its new chief operating officer. Before coming to Butterball, Brown was president and chief operating officer at High Liner Foods, a global seafood company based in New Hampshire. Brown succeeds Jay Jandrain who was promoted to president and CEO after Kerry Doughty stepped down due to health reasons last December.

Guy Allen was hired as senior agricultural economist for the IGP Institute. Allen began on Monday and is leading the grain marketing and risk management curriculum and will serve as an outreach specialist. Allen brings more than 25 years of industry experience in international commodities trading and marketing supply chains.

David Marten begins a new job as deputy director, D.C. Office for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Marten most recently served as legislative assistant for Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash. Emily Kolano has taken over handing agriculture, labor, science/digital technology, and space issues and Jaxon Wolfe has added Puget Sound recovery, environment/natural resources, energy, Tribes, transportation, and ports to his portfolio for Rep. Heck.

Kevin Diamond had his first day in Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s, D-Del., office on Monday. Diamond is the new legislative director replacing Jasmine Dickerson, who began a new role with the House Ag Committee.

Reuben Moore

Reuben Moore

Joe Herrbach now covers agriculture, energy, and natural resource issues for Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio. He adds these topics to his portfolio after Felix Muniz Jr. moves on to take a new job with the House Ag Committee.

Emily Spain is settling in as Sen. Tom Carper’s, D-Del., new chief of staff. She filled the role from Bill Ghent who moved on to begin a new job as a lobbyist for the Lugar Hellmann Group, lobbying on trade, environment, and infrastructure issues.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., recently added new staffers to his Capitol Hill office. Holly Idelson was hired as Raskin’s new chief counsel, Andre Miller and Brianne Klimas come on as legislative fellows, and Martha Sanchez is promoted to legislative assistant. 

Reuben Moore has been tapped to serve as interim vice president of Mississippi State University’s Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine (DAFVM). Moore currently serves as the agriculture administrator for MSU, but for the past 18 months, Moore has served as associate vice president of DAFVM while current DAFVM vice president Gregory Bohach has been hospitalized and dealing with health issues. The appointment is pending formal approval. Previously, Moore served four years as head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona and 11 years as an Extension dairy specialist at Mississippi State.

Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. (MBI) hired Brian Guess to join as Southwest U.S. Territory Sales Manager. Guess has over 12 years of growing operations experience, most recently serving as the director of Field Operations for LIV Organic Produce. Before that, he managed regional grower operations in Southern California for Homegrown Organic Farms. MBI is a global provider of bio-based pest management and plant health products.

Western Growers hires Anna Bilderbach as the new learning and development manager on the human resources team. Bringing over 20 years of experience in financial services, non-profit, and project manager positions in this role she is responsible for conducting all training for Western Growers member farmers and the agricultural community, in both English and Spanish.

Chris Grogan

Chris Grogan

Chris Grogan joins GROWMARK’s Corporate Relations team as the new publications and media relations manager. He was hired to take over the position from Matt Wettersten, who accepted a position with the Illinois Farm Bureau as audio visual manager. Grogan has more than 16 years of experience in television news. He started out first as a reporter and anchor and most recently worked in broadcast management roles. He will handle media relations responsibilities and cover news topics in the field of agriculture for GROWMARK.

Kenneth Quinn, former ambassador to Cambodia, announced he will retire as president of the World Food Prize (WFP) at the end of the year. Quinn began leading the organization in 1999 after 32 years serving in Foreign Services. During his time with the WFP, Quinn has continued to serve out the mission that Norman Borlaug, father of the green revolution, set out to establish when creating a Nobel Prize for food and agriculture. Quinn served as a Rural Development advisor in the Mekong Delta, on the National Security Council staff at the White House, at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Vienna, as chairman of the U.S. Interagency Task Force on POW/MIAs, and as director of Iowa SHARES, a humanitarian campaign that sent Iowa doctors, nurses, medical supplies and food to starving Cambodian refugees.

Jennie-O Turkey announced Pat Solheid, vice president of human resources and administrations, will retire at the end of May. Solheid began her career in 1986 at Jerome Foods’ Faribault plant as the human resources manager. With the merger of Jennie-O and The Turkey Store Company in 2001, she became the director of employee relations and in 2005 she was promoted to her current position.Melanie Faust, current vice president of operations, will take over Solheids position and Matt Schruppwill step in as the new vice president of operations.

Stepping down as Organic Valley’s CEO is George Siemon. Siemon was one of seven founders who created Organic Valley and has served the company since 1988. Organic Valley has appointed Bob Kirchoff, current chief business officers, to step in as interim CEO. 

Memorial services were held over the weekend for Al Oliver, who lead the Grain Dealers National Association (later renamed the National Grain and Feed Association) for 30 years. Oliver, who passed away in January, "took over an organization in 1956 that was on the edge of insolvency, with few committees and staff, and no programs — an Association that was principally reactive and reported on government policies and actions rather than proactively trying to influence them," NGFA CEO Randy Gordon said. Oliver is, according to Gordon, more responsible for the modern NGFA "than any other single person." 

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