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Published January 18, 2011, 10:29 AM

Former ag department chief of staff tapped to lead office

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said Jan. 13 he will appoint Karen Ross, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff, as secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said Jan. 13 he will appoint Karen Ross, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief of staff, as secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Ross has served as Vilsack’s chief of staff since 2010.

A USDA spokesman confirmed that Ross would leave, but said she would stay at USDA until the end of January. No replacement has been named.

Past experience

Before her USDA appointment, Ross served as president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

Her appointment as Vilsack’s chief of staff pleased Californians who have criticized the Obama administration for not appointing more Californians to higher-level positions, but Ross also brought a Midwestern background to the administration.

Midwestern roots

She was born and raised on a family farm in western Nebraska and is a graduate of the University of Nebraska.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture traces its roots back to 1880.

With 88,000 farms and ranches, California agriculture nearly is a $36.6 billion industry that generates at least $100 billion in related economic activity, according to the department’s website.

Former Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman was California secretary of food and agriculture in the late 1990s.

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