California Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY’S List, to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who passed away in her Washington, D.C., home last week. Butler was sworn into office on Tuesday.

Newsom has also appointed Kimberly Goncalves, of Elk Grove, as special assistant to the Secretary at the California Natural Resources Agency. She has served as a staff services manager at CNRA since 2008. Cliff Rechtschaffen, of Oakland, was tapped to sit on the California Air Resources Board. He previously served as a commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission since 2017 and also served as a senior adviser on climate and energy in the Office of Governor Brown from 2011 to 2017.

Mosso, Joelle.pngJoelle Mosso, Western Growers

Joelle Mosso has joined Western Growers as the new associate vice president of science programs. Mosso previously worked at the Organic Trade Association as the senior director of technical and regulatory affairs.

Kevin Burkum has been tapped as the new CEO for U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action. He most recently served as the chief communications officer for Global Dairy Platform. He succeeds former CEO Erin Fitzgerald, who left USFRA in April.

The Department of Agriculture has announced three new senior staff positions. Tate Mitchell has been tapped as the new chief of staff for the Office of Communications. She previously worked at the White House Office of the Vice President, where she served as associate director of press operations. Before that, Mitchell served as a press assistant at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Rudy Soto has been promoted to deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Congressional Relations. He previously served as USDA’s acting director of external and intergovernmental affairs. Before that, he served as Idaho’s rural development state director since January 2021. Steffanie Bezruki has been elevated to senior adviser for the Office of the Deputy Secretary. She joined USDA in 2021 and most recently served as the chief of staff for the Under Secretary of Rural Development and previously as Chief of Staff for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

MaryEllen Mitchell-Whisnant has left USDA where she was the chief of staff in the Office of the Chief Economist. She now serves as a senior adviser at the Treasury Department.

Biotalys, an ag tech company developing protein-based solutions for food and crop protection, has selected Kevin Helash as the company’s new CEO, effective Dec. 1. Helash currently serves as the CEO of EnviroKure. He will replace Patrice Sellès, who will step down from his position as CEO and director in mutual agreement with the company. Sellès will remain in an advisory role for 30 days from the end of his appointment to ensure a smooth transition.

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Trey Elizondo has left Capitol Hill and taken a new role with Cargill’s federal government relations team as a policy associate. Elizondo previously worked as a legislative assistant for Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., working on the agriculture portfolio.

Trey Elizondo.jpegTrey Elizondo, Cargill

The NASDA Foundation has brought on two new staff members supporting the Northeast Regional Food Business Center Cooperative Agreement. Jade Umberger will be the new grants coordinator and Max London the new communications coordinator. Umberger most recently earned her master’s in food studies and worked with the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation (CRAFT) at Chatham University. London earned a bachelor’s degree from the George Washington University in international affairs with minors in sustainability and journalism.

Matthew Hughes is the new operations coordinator for the Torrey Advisory Group. He previously was a temporary assistant at Beacon Hill Staffing. 

Val Dolcini has been selected to sit on the board of directors for American Farmland Trust. Dolcini currently serves as the U.S. head of sustainability and government affairs for Syngenta. Before joining Syngenta, he was the director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation in California.

The National Sorghum Producers board of directors re-elected officers and added a new director at its annual board meeting. Craig Meeker of Kansas will serve a second term as chair, Amy France of Kansas will continue to serve as vice chair, and Kody Carson of Texas will retain his position as past chair. Newly elected to the board is Scott Frazier of Texas.

M.S. Swaminathan, an Indian agricultural scientist credited with expanding his country’s production of wheat and rice during the Green Revolution in the 1960s, died Sept. 28 at his home in Chennai. He was 98. Swaminathan built off the work of Norman Borlaug, who brought the Green Revolution to Mexico and Africa. He received the World Food Prize in 1987. He held many positions in scientific institutions and the Indian government including the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s Parliament.

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