USDA Announces Appointment of Additional Directors of the Agricultural Services and Rural Development Agency

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2022 – Today, President Joe Biden announced his intention to appoint eight regional positions in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), including five State Executive Directors of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and three State Directors rural development (RD).

“As we work to build a better America, we need talented and experienced staff working in our state offices,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “We are thrilled to welcome these dedicated individuals to the USDA at such an important time in the Biden-Harris administration.”

The state executive directors of the FSA oversee the operations of the Farm Service Agency and the implementation of agricultural policy in the state. Each state executive director works with the state committee to administer FSA programs and county office operations, develops and maintains stakeholder relationships with clients and other agencies and governments.

State RD Directors serve as the general manager of rural development in the states and territories and are responsible for carrying out the mission of rural development for the benefit of all in rural America. In conjunction with guidance and support from the National Office, State Directors are responsible for promoting the rural development mission and strategic goals and providing key leadership to develop and support a productive state workforce. , diverse and inclusive.

Farm service agency:

Blong Xiong, FSA State Executive Director for California

Most recently, Blong Xiong served as Executive Director of the Asian Business Institute & Resource Center. Elected in 2006, he served two terms as a Fresno City Council member, where he was the first elected Hmong council member in the state of California and the first Asian Fresno City Council member. . Xiong also served as deputy director of the Fresno Center, formerly known as the Fresno Center for New Americans. In addition, he has served on several commissions and boards of directors: the Asian Pacific Islander Commission, the California Volunteer Commission, the Insurance Diversity Board and the Valley Small Business Development Corp. Xiong holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Marian College in Fond du Lac. , and a master’s degree in business administration from the National University.

Matt Gellings, FSA State Executive Director for Idaho

Matt Gellings served on the Idaho FSA State Committee for twelve years. He served as Chairman of the Board of Leadership Idaho Agriculture, Chairman of the Eastern Idaho Ag Hall of Fame, and President of the Bonneville County Grain Producers Association. A fourth-generation farmer, Gellings produces alfalfa, wheat, malting barley and potatoes on his farm in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He also maintained a cattle operation for 26 years.

Whitney Place, FSA State Executive Director for Minnesota

Whitney Place most recently served as Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). She had worked for MDA since 2012 in the roles of Director of Legislative Affairs, Assistant Commissioner, and Project Coordinator for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Place earned a BS in Applied Plant Science and a Masters in Environmental Science, Technology and Policy from the University of Minnesota.

Heidi Secord, FSA State Executive Director for Pennsylvania

Heidi Secord has over 26 years of experience in agriculture and regenerative agriculture as the owner of the Josie Porter Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania. She is currently a farmer member of the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission, to which she was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf. Secord previously served as state president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and served on the board of the National Farmers Union. She has engaged in agricultural policy committees with several organizations, including PASA Sustainable Agriculture Board, Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations (PSCFO), All Together Now Pennsylvania, and the Monroe County Conservation District. Earlier in his career, Secord served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years in Mali and Lesotho. She earned a degree in business management from the University of Rhode Island.

Dr. Ronald Howell, Jr., FSA State Executive Director for Virginia

Most recently, Dr. Ronald Howell, Jr. served as Director of Operations and Management at Virginia State University’s College of Agriculture. He previously served as Special Assistant and Advisor for Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives to the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry in the offices of Governors Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam. Howell earned his BS in Agriculture and Economics from Virginia State University in 2009 and received a Masters from Virginia Tech in Agricultural and Life Sciences in 2012. In 2021, he earned his Ph.D. in Education P- 20 and community leadership with an emphasis in agricultural education from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. Howell resides in Spring Grove, Virginia.

Rural development:

Lakeisha Hood, RD State Director for Florida and the US Virgin Islands

Most recently, Lakeisha Hood served as the Director of the Food, Nutrition, and Wellness Division at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Prior to joining FDACS, she served as a legislative assistant in the Florida State Senate. A graduate of Alabama State University, Lakeisha earned her master’s degree in education from Auburn University at Montgomery and earned law degrees from North Carolina Central University School of Law and the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Lakeisha currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida and is a licensed member of the Georgia State Bar.

Rudy Soto, State RD Director for Idaho

Born and raised in Nampa, Idaho, Rudy Soto is a member of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation and the son of a farmhand. Most recently, he worked for Western Leaders Network, a non-partisan non-profit organization of local and tribal elected officials from the Western Interior focused on protecting public lands, water and air. . Soto previously served on the legislative staff in the United States House of Representatives and covered energy, environment, agriculture, education, transportation, and tribal issues as part of his portfolio. He is a proud veteran of the United States Army National Guard and earned his bachelor’s degree from Portland State University.

Helen Price Johnson, State RD Director for Washington

A third-generation small business owner, Helen Price Johnson completed three terms on the Island County Commission in 2021. She is a past president of the Washington State Association of Counties, a two-term member of the South Whidbey School Board and a former board member of the Whidbey Community Foundation. In these roles, she worked across the state to defend small towns, small businesses and rural lands.

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