Marrone Bio Innovations has tapped Kevin Helash to serve as its new chief executive officer, effective Aug. 1. He will also be appointed to serve as a member of the board of directors. Helash brings over 28 years of experience in the agriculture industry to this position, most recently working for Agrinos AS as the company’s CEO. Before that, he was a vice president and corporate officer with Agrium, which is now known as Nutrien.

Kevin Helash

Kevin Helash

Homegrown Organic Farms has promoted Amanda Vietti and has brought on Stefaun Avakian as sales account managers. Vietti was previously in the role of marketing specialist, and before that was a sales associate at Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC. Avakian most recently was a produce buyer for Imperfect Foods and before that was a sales and logistics coordinator at Trinity Fruit Co.

Sebastián Sánchez of Los Angeles has been appointed associate secretary for farmworker liaison and immigrant services at the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Sánchez has been staff attorney at Bet Tzedek Legal Services since 2015 and was staff attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance from 2014 to 2015.

Dominique Amilien is the new CEO at Vilmorin-Mikado, seed company. Amilien brings more than 30 years of experience in the international agricultural sector. He joined Limagrain in 1987 and was in commercial, managerial and executive positions. In 2011, he joined Vilmorin-Mikado as director of global sales and was promoted to deputy CEO in 2018.

After 44 years in the wine industry, Emilio Miranda, viticulturist and grower relations representative for Allied Grape Growers, has retired. Miranda started with AGG in 2004 after working for Constellation Brands from 1997 to 2004 and Paul Masson Vineyards from 1977 to 1997. Miranda has served on numerous industry boards and committees, including the California Winegrape Inspection Advisory Board, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, California Association of Winegrape Growers, Central California Winegrowers, and more.

Meredith Rehrman Ritchie has started working on communications projects for Allied Grape Growers. She is still working in communications for the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

Naturipe has promoted Aribel Aguirre-Beck to chief administrative officer and chief financial officer. Andrew Bruno has also been promoted to president of Naturipe Avocado Farms.

Dan Avakian has joined FreshXperts as a produce industry consultant. Starting his career in 1976 in an open-air market, Avakian worked his way into the industry. He moved to a supermarket chain in 1985 as a produce manager and then started Dan’s Fresh Produce, a retail-wholesale market in 2006. 

Raley’s has promoted Laura Croff to senior vice president of people, responsible for all of the company’s human resource strategies. She has been with the company for 13 years, and was promoted from senior director of human resources to vice president of people in December 2018.

After 33 years of studying the science of growing fruit, Rachel Elkins, University of California Cooperative Extension pomology farm advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, has retired. Elkins has earned two master’s degrees, in pomology and plant protection and pest management at the UC-Davis campus, before joining the cooperative extension as a farm advisor intern in 1986. She was hired as a farm advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties in 1987. Elkins will continue ongoing research trials by working part-time, funded by the California Pear Advisory Board and Pear Pest Management Research Fund.

Emily Zakowski, California Department of Food and Agriculture environmental scientist, and Tristan Hudak, vice president of Ag BioTech Inc. and director of new business development for Ag Ploutos, Co. Ltd., based in Sacramento, have been named a 2020-2021 cohort for the Farm Foundation’s Young Agri-Food Leaders and Young Farmer Accelerator programs. To see the full listing of individuals, click here.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has selected Parag Chitnis as acting director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) following the departure of Scott Angle. Chitnis brings over 31 years of scientific research and experience. He was named associate director for programs earlier this year and has led the implementation of NIFA’s research programs. Angle accepted a position as vice president of agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Bryan Kaphammer, associate area director for the Agricultural Research Service’s Plains region, will serve as NIFA acting associate director of programs.

Perdue has also announced the appointment of 15 members to serve on the advisory committee on minority farmers. The newly appointed members will serve terms of up to two years through 2022. They are as follows: Harvey Reed, Louisiana; Cary Junior, Michigan; Carolyn Jones, Mississippi; Kimberly Ratcliff, Texas; Arnetta Cotton, Oklahoma; Antonio Harris, Louisiana; Delmar Stamps, Mississippi; Michelle Costa Cruz, Connecticut; Dewayne Goldmon, Arkansas; William Miller, Ohio; Lois Kim, Texas; Ivan Howard, Florida; Dr. Duncan Marson Chembezi, Alabama; Dr. Elsa Selina Sanchez, Pennsylvania; and Claud Evans, D.V.M., Oklahoma.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., was appointed to the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee and the Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee. Torres Small has served on the Agriculture Committee since February 2020.

Cory Wightman is now the global head of R&D communications for Bayer Crop Science. She previously was the global communications director for environmental science and vegetable seeds. Wightman has been with the company for 11 years.

Leigh Picchetti has been hired as the new director of strategy, enablement, brand and culture communications at Nutrien. Picchetti has previously worked for Farm Credit and Qwest Communications.

Christopher Gerlach

Christopher Gerlach

Christopher Gerlach has been hired by the U.S. Apple Association as director of industry analytics. He most recently was director of research at the International Council of Shopping Centers. Gerlach will assume the portfolio of Mark Seetin, director of industry information, who is now part time and transitioning to retirement.

After 34 years, Maggie Ernst has announced she will retire from the National Chicken Council. Ernst most recently was senior director of meetings and member services. Before joining the council in 1986, Ernst worked for the governmental affairs office of American Cyanamid as the assistant director for environmental and EPA issues. Before that, she served as the communications manager and publications editor for the American Society for Microbiology.

The International Dairy Foods Association has announced the names of the 28 individuals who have been accepted into the second class of the NextGen Leadership Program. To view the second class of leaders, click here.

The Organic Trade Association tapped two new members to serve on the association’s board of directors. New to the Board are Adam Warthesen, director of government and industry affairs at CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley and Kellee James, founder and CEO of Mercaris Corporation. The Board also chose Kim Dietz, business development director for organics, extracts and sustainability at Firmenich, as its president for the fourth year in a row. To see the other election results, click here.

President Donald Trump has sent his nomination to the Senate for William Perry Pendley to be director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Pendley currently serves as deputy director for policy and programs at the BLM. Pendley was president of Mountain States Legal Foundation for 30 years and also practiced law in the Washington, D.C., area. He served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Energy and Minerals, and was an attorney to Sen. Clifford Hansen, R-Wyo. He had also nominated Neil Gregory Kornze to be vice.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has added Becky Rasdall to its legislative affairs team as the new vice president of trade policy and international affairs. Rasdall previously served nine years for the U.S. government, most recently working at USDA as a senior policy adviser in the Foreign Agricultural Service. Rasdall has also worked for ConAgra Foods, the International Food Information Council, and for Congressman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

Courtney Knupp now serves as the chief of staff to USDA’s assistant secretary for administration. Knupp has been at USDA since August 2018, and previously served as the chief of staff for the research, education, and economics office.

Courtney Knupp

Courtney Knupp

Ryan Clough is now senior counsel to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. He handles the portfolio for commerce, small business, taxation, and telecommunications.

Sean Ryan has moved to the office of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., to be the new communications director. Ryan previously served as the press secretary for Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Lindsay Reilly has joined the office of Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., as the new digital director and press secretary. She previously was working on Mike Bloomberg’s campaign.

Borden Dairy CEO Tony Sarsam has announced he will step down as head of the milk processor, effective late July. This news comes five months after the company declared bankruptcy. Sarsam has more than three decades of experience in the food industry, including working for companies PepsiCo and Nestlé. Borden Dairy was recently bought out by Capitol Peak Partners and KKR & Co., and Sarsam said the Borden business will remain intact but a new leadership team will be named.

Dine Brands, the parent company of Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar and IHOP restaurants, has chosen Tony Moralejo as the new president of international and global development and Justin Skelton as the new chief information officer. Moralejo previously worked for Church's/Texas Chicken, an international quick service restaurant company. Skelton joined Dine in June 2019 as vice president of IT Infrastructure and Operations and most recently served as Dine’s acting Chief Information Officer.

Longtime rice grower Kenneth Collins passed away July 2, at the age of 65. Collins founded Biggs Farming in 1985 and spent 38 years in the rice industry. He was named the 1999 California Rice Farmer of the Year and served on many agriculture boards of directors, including Farmers' Rice Cooperative (FRC) where he served as the vice chair for the past 12 years.

David Sandretti passed away on June 22 from a heart attack. Sandretti was the director of legislative and public affairs for USDA Rural Development under Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Before joining the USDA staff, Sandretti worked on Capitol Hill in many communication roles, including as communications director for Sen. Barbra Boxer, D-Calif., and communications director for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works under ranking member Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-VT. A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for July 22.

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