USDA is bringing on six individuals who will hold senior staff positions and promoting two at the department. 

Former Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., has been hired as senior adviser for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. While in Congress, O’Halleran sat on the House Agriculture Committee as well as the Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Cindy AxneCindy Axne, USDA

Former Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is joining the department staff as the senior adviser for rural engagement, delivery and prosperity. Axne sat on the House Ag and Financial Services committees and co-chaired the Congressional Rural Caucus. 

Rudy Soto has been appointed acting director of external and intergovernmental affairs. Soto had served as USDA’s Rural Development state director for Idaho since January 2021. 

Carlton Bridgeforth has been appointed senior adviser for research, education, and economics. Bridgeforth comes to USDA from Capitol Hill where he served on the House Ag Committee staff under Ranking Member David Scott, D-Ga. He handled the portfolio for General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and the Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit Subcommittee.

Yvonne Hsu is the new chief of staff for the Rural Housing Service. Before joining USDA, Hsu was the chief policy and government affairs officer for the National Asian-Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Greg Jaffe is a new senior adviser for regulatory affairs at USDA. Jaffe most recently was the co-director for Breakthrough Institute’s D.C. office where he led food and agriculture policy. He previously led biotechnology policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

The department also promoted Marissa Perry to deputy communications director and Allan Rodriguez to press secretary. Both Perry and Rodriguez have been with the department since 2021.  

President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Jeffrey Prescott as the U.S. representative to the United Nations agencies for food and agriculture with the rank of ambassador. Prescott currently serves as the deputy to the U.S. ambassador to the UN, leading Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Washington office at the Department of State. 

Biden on Tuesday formally nominated Summer Mersinger to continue as a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Mersinger has served as a commissioner since March 2022 after her first nomination by Biden. Before that, Mersinger previously was the chief of staff to then-Commissioner Dawn Stump.

Maribel Duran has been appointed as the new chief of staff for the Farm Credit Administration. She comes to FCA from USDA, where she was the deputy chief of staff for Secretary Tom Vilsack. Duran also has served as the chief of staff for the Leadership Division of the Aspen Institute.

Luke Muller has been hired by U.S. Wheat Associates as assistant director of the West Coast office. Muller recently completed his master’s degree in agriculture, food and resource economics at Michigan State University. He worked as a research assistant in MSU’s Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Economics, where he investigated fungal and insect effects on crops in the Midwest. He also served as a consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. 

Miles Chiotti has a new role as John Deere’s public and industry relations manager. He previously was the manager of government affairs for John Deere. Jon Ebert has been promoted to be product management and marketing lead for John Deere Precision Upgrades. He previously worked as the manager of North American public and industry relations. 

Nicole Russo has been selected as the associate deputy administrator for emergency and domestic programs for the Plant Protection and Quarantine team at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. She will also serve as USDA’s senior invasive species coordinator. Russo previously served as the director of PPQ’s Quarantine, Policy, Analysis, and Support staff since 2018.

Corey Flournoy has been named the executive in residence for equity, diversity and inclusion at the National FFA Organization. Flournoy was the first African-American National FFA president and currently serves as the principal of Creative Outreach Consulting.

Patricia Sheikh has started a new role as the managing partner and independent consultant at International Agriculture Solutions. Sheikh has over 24 years of service at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and previously worked as the senior vice president of programs at Roots for Peace. She also held leadership roles with The Corporate Council on Africa. 

Nancy Young has joined biofuels company Gevo as the new chief sustainability officer. She previously was the CSO at Alder Fuels. 

Friedrich Eichler is the new chief technology officer of CNH Industrial, succeeding Marc Kermisch, the chief digital and information officer, who was previously serving in the CTO role on an interim basis. Bringing over 30 years of experience to the role, Eichler previously worked for companies such as Volkswagen Group and Mercedes-Benz Group.

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Jim Collins, former CEO of Corteva, has been appointed to lead the Vestaron board of directors as chairman. He joined the board in January. He has over 35 years of experience in the agriculture and food industry, and was also the former COO for the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont. 

Jim Collins.jpgJim Collins, Vestaron

Steve Betz has joined Vestaron as the new senior director of corporate communications and brand. Betz previously worked at Corteva Agriscience, where he was the head of global corporate brand, advertising and narrative. 

Marty Irby has been brought on to the Farm Action Fund to lobby for the inclusion of the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act in the next farm bill. Irby previously worked for FreedomWorks where he was the chief operating officer.

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern has announced he will retire at the end of the year. Mulhern has served at the helm of NMPF for the last decade and will wrap up a 45-year career in ag and dairy policy. The Wisconsin native began his career working for a Midwest dairy cooperative in 1979 and moved to NMPF in 1985, where he directed the organization’s government affairs team and helped craft NMPF’s strategy for dealing with the 1980s farm crisis. He worked on Capitol Hill when he first arrived in Washington in 1982, and then again in 1990, when he served as chief of staff for Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. He also was a partner at the international communications firm Fleishman-Hillard and managing partner at Watson/Mulhern LLC. 

Polly Ruhland has announced she will step down as the United Soybean Board CEO at the end of the year. Ruhland has led USB for the last six years. USB Chairwoman Meagan Kaiser will appoint a search committee for Ruhland’s successor after the checkoff’s July board meeting. That committee plans to look for a “visionary leader who builds upon the board’s successes and continues driving the USB’s mission forward," the group says. USB hopes to hire a new CEO by the end of the year. 

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization has elected new executive committee directors. Ted Love, former president and CEO of Global Blood Therapeutics, will be the new chair of the board, serving a two-year term. Anna Rath with the Vestaron Corp. has been selected as the new chair of the agriculture and environment committee, and Duane J. Simpson with Bayer CropScience will serve as vice-chair.

Tim Beatty has been selected as president-elect of the board of directors for the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.

Agri-Pulse’s Jason Lutz has been selected as one of the Young Leaders in Agribusiness by the Agricultural Business Council of Kanas City. Lutz was one of eight individuals honored with the award that showed “exemplary passion, leadership, and business acumen” in the industry, according to a press release. The council will recognize the young leaders at a reception in Kansas City on July 6.

Nurul Islam, a distinguished economist who had outsized influence in international agricultural trade and development policy, died May 9 in Washington. He was 94. He was a leader in the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Islam served as assistant director general of the Economic and Social Policy Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and chaired the Department of Economics at Dhaka University. He joined the International Food Policy Research Institute in 1987 as senior policy adviser to the director general, retiring as research fellow emeritus. Islam authored multiple research papers and more than 25 books.

Beth McGee, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's director of science and agricultural policy, died Sunday. McGee began her role with CBF in 2003, leading the science of Bay restoration, and helping CBF craft policy solutions. CBF said McGee was a “scientist at heart” who had “a unique ability to translate her knowledge into terms that were easy to understand.” She held a doctorate in environmental science from the University of Maryland.

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