Tom Vilsack is headed back to the Department of Agriculture. The Senate voted 92-7 to confirm Vilsack as the nation's next Secretary of Agriculture, the same post he held during the eight-year Obama administration. To read more on the confirmation, click here.

Brian Sikes has been named chief operating officer of Cargill. He will also serve as a management director on the Cargill board of directors. Sikes joined Cargill in 1991, and most recently led the company's global protein and salt enterprise as corporate senior vice president and was Cargill’s chief risk officer.

Kansas Farm Bureau has hired Joel Leftwich as chief strategy officer, effective March 1. Leftwich most recently served as executive director of the William L. Hudson BVI Workforce Innovation Center, which helps train and employ individuals with visual impairments. Before that, Leftwich spent nearly 20 years in D.C. in various roles. He worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide to former Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., was a longtime staffer for former Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., leading to eventually working as the staff director for the Senate Ag Committee. He also held roles with PepsiCo and DuPont, and was a managing director for the Glover Park Group.

Joel Leftwich cropped

Joel Leftwich

The Department of Agriculture has tapped Gloria Montaño Greene as deputy undersecretary for farm production and conservation and appointed Zach Ducheneaux as administrator of the Farm Service Agency. Montaño Greene is a former state executive director for the Farm Service Agency in Arizona, where she served from 2014-2017. She most recently served as deputy director for Chispa Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters focused on empowering Latino voices on issues relating to energy, public lands, and democracy access. Ducheneaux also was executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the largest Native American agriculture organization in the U.S. He had been with the council since the 1990s in various leadership positions. He also helps operate his family’s ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north-central South Dakota with his brothers.

Gloria Montano Greene

Gloria Montaño Greene

USDA has also announced the individuals who will hold senior staff positions. Maribel Duran was named deputy chief of staff for operations in the Office of the Secretary. Duran most recently served as managing director for equity and inclusion for the Aspen Institute, as well as chief of staff for its leadership division. Mickeala Carter has been hired as the deputy director of communications in the office of communications. Carter comes to USDA from Capitol Hill, where she served as director of communications and external affairs for the House Agriculture Committee, working for Chairman David Scott, D-Ga. Before that, she was the outreach coordinator for the committee under former Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Lynn Overmann now serves as the senior adviser for data and technology in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration. Most recently, she served as a senior data strategist for Opportunity Insights. Bidisha Bhattacharyya was named senior policy adviser in the Farm Service Agency. Previously, Bhattacharyya served as director for climate and energy policy at the Center for American Progress. Valerie McMakin will be a legislative analyst in the Office of Congressional Relations. McMakin recently served as a legislative assistant for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., covering the agriculture and food, international trade, and transportation portfolio.

The Department of the Interior has appointed Daniel Cordalis deputy solicitor of water; Nada Culver, deputy director of policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management; and Bryan Newland, principal deputy assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. Cordalis most recently worked as an attorney with Earthjustice and the Yurok Tribe, and clerked for the Colorado Supreme Court and the Native American Rights Fund. Culver most recently served as the vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel at the National Audubon Society. Before that, Culver was the senior counsel and senior director for policy and planning at The Wilderness Society. Newland is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community, where he recently completed his tenure as tribal president. Before that, Newland served as chief judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court.

Dana O’Brien has taken on a new role as the chief sustainability officer and deputy chief operating officer at Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). He previously served as the executive vice president for food and agriculture at BIO. Shaye Mandle is the incoming chief operating officer. Mandle is a biotech innovation advocate and previously worked at the Medical Alley Association.

Dana O’Brien

Dana O’Brien

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has added two staff members to its D.C. office. Jack Frye has been hired as the new manager of congressional relations. He most recently managed the National Restaurant Association's federal and state political advocacy programs. Jack Detiveaux has joined NPPC as the new manager of competition, labor and tax. He most recently was senior manager of legislative affairs for the National Association of Chemical Distributors and previously was senior manager of government relations for the American Bakers Association.

The Intertribal Agriculture Council has selected Kari Jo Lawrence to be the new executive director. She succeeds Zach Ducheneaux, who has been tapped by the USDA to lead the Farm Service Agency.

Justin Whitmore is now the chief strategy officer at Keurig Dr Pepper. Whitmore previously worked at Tyson Foods as the executive vice president of alternative proteins. Whitmore joined Tyson Foods in 2017 as executive vice president, corporate strategy, and the company’s first chief sustainability officer.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has released the roster for the panel's Republican staff. Joining the committee staff is Katherine Smith, who will serve as professional staff for the committee, responsible for environmental review, permitting reform and fish and wildlife policy. She previously served as the chief of staff at the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council and was associate director for infrastructure at the Council on Environmental Quality. Jess Kramer has also joined the committee staff as counsel working on issues related to clean and safe water and water infrastructure. She previously served as senior policy counsel in the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency and was an assistant attorney general in the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Environmental Protection Unit. To view the full list with the names of the committee staff, click here.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has promoted her legislative director, Liz Albertine, to chief of staff. She succeeds Leticia Mederos, who is retiring after 22 years of service. Christian Lovell will succeed Albertine as legislative director. For the last three years, Lovell has managed DeLauro's legislative work as a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and also advised her on food and agriculture, energy, and environmental policy.

Josh Byron Storey has joined the staff of Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., as her new legislative aide, assisting with the agriculture, energy, trade, and natural resources portfolio. Storey comes to the Hill from USDA, where he most recently served as a Farm Service Agency policy analyst and adviser to former Undersecretary Bill Northey.

The National Potato Council has elected Dominic LaJoie to serve as NPC’s 2021 president. LaJoie will also head the grower-led organization’s executive committee. LaJoie is a fourth-generation potato grower and partner of LaJoie Growers in Maine.

Former Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has been asked to serve as a new member of the Corporate Advisory Board for Living Greens Farm, the largest vertical indoor aeroponics farm.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable has selected its slate of national officers for 2021. Ola Lessard, chief marketing officer for HempFusion, has been tapped as president; Brittani Cushman, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of Turning Point Brands Inc., will be the executive vice president; Pete Meachum, senior director of government affairs for The Cronos Group, was selected as vice president for federal lobbying; and Anissa Medina, regulatory affairs specialist of CV Sciences, will serve as vice president for state lobbying. To see the full slate of officers, click here.

Steve Smith, senior director for agriculture at Red Gold Foods, passed away Feb. 17, due to complications with COVID-19. He was 66. Smith spent 32 years of his career with Red Gold Foods, and was admired throughout the industry as an expert in his field. A proud Purdue University alum, Smith was presented with the Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award in 2009. In his spare time, Smith loved to work on his Allis Chalmers hobby tractors and take his family and friends on airplane rides.

Sanjaya Rajaram, the 2014 World Food Prize Laureate, passed away on Feb. 17. Rajaram was recognized for developing high-yielding and disease-resistant wheat varieties grown on more than 58 million hectares throughout the world. He was born in 1943 near a small farming village in northeastern India and helped his family make a living on their five-hectare farm growing wheat, rice and maize. He won a state scholarship to attend high school and then attended the College of Jaunpur at the University of Gorakhpur, earning a degree in agriculture in 1962. Rajaram’s research and field work began at CIMMYT’s wheat breeding program in 1969, working alongside Dr. Norman Borlaug in the experimental fields of El Batán, Toluca and Ciudad Obregón in Mexico. In 1972, Borlaug asked Rajaram to succeed him and head up the wheat breeding team at CIMMYT. 

Paul Johnson passed away on Feb. 15, surrounded by family in his farmhouse he designed. He was 80. Johnson served as director of Iowa's Department of Natural Resources from 1999 to 2000 and as the chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service from 1994 to 1997. He was also a Democratic state legislator, serving in the Iowa House from 1985 to 1990.

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