j. Emilio Esteban

J. Emilio Esteban

President Joe Biden has picked Jose Emilio Esteban to serve as the next food safety undersecretary. Esteban has served as the Food Safety and Inspection Service's chief scientist since 2018 and has been with the agency since 2001. In addition to his chief scientist role, Esteban has also worked in various laboratory roles at FSIS, including executive associate for laboratory services and laboratory director for the western laboratory.

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed an important member of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s team at USDA, approving the nomination of Robert Bonnie to be undersecretary for farm production and conservation. The vote was 76-19.

USDA has announced three new individuals who will hold senior positions. Shefali Mehta has been tapped as the deputy undersecretary for research, education, and economics. Mehta joins USDA from Open Rivers Consulting Associates, where she served as the founder and principal of strategy and implementation. Before that, Mehta was the executive director at the Soil Health Partnership. Marcia Bunger was named administrator of the Risk Management Agency. Bunger served 18 years as a county executive director in South Dakota for the Farm Service Agency. She has also served 15 years on the South Dakota Advisory Council to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Colin Finan was selected to serve as senior adviser for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Most recently, Finan served as vice president at McCabe Message Partners, a Washington-based public relations firm focused on healthcare communications.

Biden has nominated Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration. Califf was FDA commissioner from February 2016 to the end of President Barack Obama's presidency in January 2017. He was previously FDA’s deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco for a year. Califf also has been a cardiology professor and vice chancellor for clinical and transitional research at the Duke University medical school. His nomination has been sent to the Senate.

Biden selected Mitch Landrieu as the senior adviser responsible for coordinating the implementation of the newly signed infrastructure legislation. Landrieu has previously served as the lieutenant governor of Louisiana and mayor of New Orleans.

Patrick Leahy, current Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman and former Ag Committee chair who played pivotal roles in the development of dairy and conservation policy, has announced he will not seek re-election to a ninth Senate term in 2022. Leahy will retire as the most senior member of the Senate after first being elected in 1974, and as the fifth-longest serving senator in U.S. history. He chaired the Senate Ag Committee from 1987 to 1995 and emerged as a stalwart on nutrition issues as well as conservation programs, dairy policy and organic agriculture. 

Mark Orr

Mark Orr

Mark Orr will become the next CEO of GROWMARK, effective March 1. He will succeed Jim Spradlin, who has served as CEO since 2014. Spradlin plans to retire effective Feb. 28.  Orr currently serves as GROWMARK’s vice president of agronomy, a position he has held since 2014.

Vijay Das is settling into his new role as the senior government affairs lobbyist for the Food Research and Action Center. Das previously served as the senior campaign strategist at the public policy think tank Demos. He was also a healthcare policy advocate at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Das has also worked as a policy fellow for the California Attorney General.

The Consumer Brands Association has brought on Rhonda Bentz as the organization's new executive vice president of public affairs. Most recently, Bentz served as vice president of paid media and strategic initiatives at the American Petroleum Institute.

Scott Dahlman has joined CropLife America’s government affairs team as the new director of state government affairs with a focus in the western region. He succeeds Jeff Case, a 39-year agriculture policy veteran who is retiring from CLA next year after 15 years. Dahlman most recently served as the state registration and regulatory affairs manager at FMC, leading regulatory efforts in Washington, Oregon, California and Arizona. He previously led Oregonians for Food and Shelter and represented farmers and ranchers on regulatory issues for the Washington Farm Bureau. 

Sarah Adams Wilbanks has been selected to serve as CEO of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies, effective Dec. 1. She will succeed Chet Boruff, who announced he will retire on Dec. 31. He has served as CEO since 2004. Wilbanks currently serves as assistant director of the Department of Fertilizer Regulatory and Certification Services at Clemson University.

Katie Muckenhirn has been promoted to vice president of public affairs at the American Coalition for Ethanol in Sioux Falls, S.D. Muckenhirn previously served as ACE’s communications director in D.C.

The Environmental Working Group has promoted Anne Schechinger to be the group's new Midwest director and named Sarah Porter the new geospatial director. Schechinger has been a senior analyst at EWG for more than seven years, focusing on agricultural and environmental economics. Porter has also been a senior analyst for the last three years and before that worked for USDA, conducting agricultural research and developing precision conservation planning tools.

Jill Damskey

Jill Damskey

Jill Damskey has been selected to serve as California’s first ever pork ambassador as an employee of the California Pork Producers Association, headquartered in Sacramento. Requirements of California's Proposition 12 initiative will take effect in January. The new law requires pork producers both within and outside the state to enlarge some of their housing for hogs.

Lillie Brady has taken a new job with Cornerstone Government Affairs as a senior associate. She previously worked as a government affairs associate at Corteva Agriscience and before that was at USDA in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs.

DNO Produce, a Columbus-based wholesale distributor and fresh-cut produce processor, has named Marissa Dake as director of communications and public affairs. Dake previously served as the Topeka Rescue Mission’s director of Operation Food Secure, a Coronavirus-era anti-hunger program. Before that, Dake served as policy and communications coordinator for Michael Torrey Associates.

Reelected to a fourth term, Betsy Huber will serve as president of National Grange. Huber was first elected as president in 2015. She will continue to manage all operations and fraternal elements of the organization, which is based in D.C.

Cyndi Johnson, a wheat farmer from Conrad, Montana, has been elected president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, making her the first female president in the organization’s history. Elected as vice president was Gary Heibertshausen, an Alzada, Montana, sheep rancher.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers has announced its 2022 officers for the AEM board of directors. Serving as chair is Robert Crain, senior vice president, customer experience of AGCO Corp. Rod Schrader, chairman and CEO of Komatsu America Corp., has been tapped as the vice chair. Serving as the ag chair is Todd Stucke, senior vice president of marketing, product support, and strategic projects, Kubota Tractor Corp. Stephen Roy, president of North American region for Volvo Construction Equip., has been selected to serve as the Construction chair. Serving as treasurer is Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corp., and serving as secretary is Megan Tanel, president of AEM.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation has announced new officers for 2022. Serving as chairman is Mark Swanson, CEO of Colorado-based Birko Corp., succeeding Pat Binger of Cargill Protein North America. Dean Meyer, a corn, soybean and livestock producer from Iowa, is the new USMEF chair-elect. Randy Spronk, Minnesota pork producer, will serve as vice chair, and the newest officer is Steve Hanson, a rancher from Nebraska.

Former American Crystal Sugar President Jim Horvath passed away at the age of 76. Horvath retired in 2007, after leading ACS for nine years. He also served as the initial president and CEO of ProGold, a sugar-corn cooperative that built a corn syrup plant at Wahpeton, North Dakota.

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