WASHINGTON, August 2, 2017 - Goodbye, Al. After a 39-year stint in USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Al Almanza retired from public service on July 31. Almanza started his career as a food inspector in a small slaughter plant in Dalhart, Texas, and rose to serve for a decade as FSIS administrator. With Almanza gone, President Trump has named Carmen Rottenberg, who had been Almanza’s chief of staff, as acting deputy undersecretary at FSIS, and Paul Kiecker as the agency’s acting administrator. Kiecker has been with FSIS for 29 years, most recently as deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Field Operations. The two will serve in those capacities until presidential nominees are confirmed by the Senate for those roles.

Agri-Pulse sends best wishes to Debbie Merrill, who retired last week after a 40-plus year career on Capitol Hill during which she served a handful of Democratic congressmen. Merrill came to Congress in 1974 as a legislative assistant to Rep. Clement Zablocki of Wisconsin. Over the years, the Stephens College alum also worked for Nicholas Mavroules and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, and Sam Farr of California. She joined the staff of Jimmy Panetta, another Californian, as legislative director in January.

Fred Clark is returning to Capitol Hill as senior counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee. Clark served as staff in the House from 1983-1993, including almost four years as deputy chief counsel to the House Agriculture Committee, participating in the writing of the 1985 and 1990 farm bills. More recently, the Georgetown law school grad has been helping to lead global missions for his local church. Prior to that he worked for more than 10 years with Cornerstone Government Affairs as general counsel and managing partner. Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says the chief counsel’s job is going to DaNita Murray, who previously served as the panel’s senior counsel and policy director. Murray has also held high-level positions with the House Agriculture Committee, the National Corn Growers Association and at USDA…. Roberts also hired Haley Donahue and Chance Hunley as staff assistants and legislative correspondents. Donahue, an Emory University alum, interned in Roberts’ office earlier this year. Hunley, who went to Kansas State, most recently worked as the events and marketing coordinator for the Kansas FFA Foundation.

Kevin Roepke is moving from the U.S. Grains Council to the U.S. Soybean Export Council where he’ll be the regional director for the Americas, based in Guadalajara, Mexico. At USGC, he was regional director of South and Southeast Asia, working out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Roepke joined the Grains Council in 2011. His last day with USGC will be Aug. 11… USGC has also hired Kathryn “Katy” Wyatt as its global strategies coordinator in Washington. Before joining the Council, Wyatt gained experience working on the MasterCard Foundation’s 2017 Young Africa Works Summit and on publicizing success stories for the Canadian International Development Agency’s program in Ethiopia.

Elissa McLerran has joined the staff of Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, as a legislative assistant focusing on agriculture, trade and rural development issues. McLerran previously was public policy communications manager for the Food Marketing Institute and an intern with the American Farm Bureau Federation. Arrington is member of the House Agriculture Committee.  

The Partnership for a Healthier America, the nonprofit launched to support former first lady Michelle Obama's Let’s Move! initiative, named Nancy Roman as president and CEO. Roman is currently president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, the largest food bank in the Washington area. Roman will begin her new job Sept. 5.

Chicken-producer OK Foods has appointed Randy Meyers to the newly created position of chief operating officer. The move comes after the company made two acquisitions in the past 18 months. Meyers, who joined OK Foods in July 2014, previously was the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. In February 2016, OK Foods bought a fully cooked chicken product plant in Oklahoma City. And last month it purchased Alabama-based Albertville Quality Foods. The company is a unit of Mexican poultry producer Industrias Bachoco.

Lynda Lucas, the wife of Rep. Frank Lucas, is being recognized as a “Significant Woman in Agriculture” by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. The Oklahoma Farm Report notes that Lynda has been running the family’s cattle operation in Cheyenne, Oklahoma, consisting of about 100 head, since Frank Lucas first took office in the state House of Representatives in 1988. He is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, a panel that he chaired from 2011 through 2014.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., promoted Natasha Hickman to chief of staff in his personal office. She had been serving as legislative director. Christopher Toppings, who had been deputy legislative director, was promoted to legislative director for Burr.

Tony Frye, formerly Legislative Aide to Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, has taken on the role of Special Assistant to the Deputy Associate Administrator for Congressional Affairs at EPA.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance is welcoming Naajiya Williams as a new administrative assistant. The Atlanta native previously worked in administration for the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees in Landover, Maryland.

The Farm Credit Administration named Wendy Laguarda as its new inspector general, succeeding Elizabeth Dean, who retired July 31. Laguarda has served as executive assistant to FCA Board Chairman and CEO Dallas Tonsager since May 2015, after working for 25 years in FCA’s Office of General Counsel. FCA says the George Washington University law school grad has particular expertise in administrative law and issues related to serving the credit needs of young, beginning, and small farmers and ranchers.

Christian Gomez Jr. has been hired by Walmart as its senior manager for global government affairs, with a focus on Latin America. He was previously economic growth adviser at USAID and is a former member of the Council of the Americas.

The Cotton Board has hired two new regional communication managers. Christi Chadwell will handle the Southwest territory, including central and south Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, while Shelley Heinrich will cover the Southern Plains, including north Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The new hires will train under the current Southwest regional communications manager, Bob Stanley, who is retiring in October. Chadwell was the communications and recruiting coordinator for the Plant and Soil Science Department at Texas Tech University. Heinrich has been working as the development director for the National Sorghum Producers.

Howard W. Hjort, an agricultural economist and retired deputy director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, died July 25 at Virginia Hospital Center near Washington, D.C., from complications of pulmonary disease and pneumonia. He was 85. Hjort held several Washington positions, early on with the Ford Foundation and the former Schnittker Associates consulting firm, later as a partner in Economic Perspectives Inc., a predecessor of Informa Economics. During the Carter administration, he was director of Economics, Policy Analysis and Budget at USDA. He began working with FAO in 1984 as director of the Policy Analysis Division and became director of FAO’s Liaison Office with North America in Washington in 1990 before returning to Rome in 1992. He retired in 1997. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5 at Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ, 5010 Little Falls Rd., Arlington, Va.

Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim, who led poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride for four decades, died on July 21 at his home in Pittsburg, Texas. He was 89. A one-time farm hand and cotton picker, Pilgrim joined his brother Aubrey in a small-town feed and seed store and took over the operation in 1966 when Aubrey died of a heart attack. He turned the business into Pilgrim’s Pride and 40 years later it was one of the top U.S. poultry producers. Pilgrim’s is now controlled by Brazilian multinational JBS S.A., the world’s largest meat processor. Always a colorful figure, Pilgrim gained some notoriety in 1989 when he went on the floor of the Texas Senate to hand out checks to a number of lawmakers as they debated a workers’ compensation bill. In its obituary, the Washington Post notes that most of the checks – which Pilgrim called “contributions,” not bribes – were returned after reports in the news media, and the incident spurred a tightening of campaign finance rules.