Karen Ross, an administrator for 20 years with two key California agricultural organizations, has been appointed Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I am excited about Karen’s homecoming appointment. It is a great opportunity for California agriculture overall, and especially great news for the California wine grape industry,” said Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno. “Karen is very familiar with California from her years with the California Association of Wine Grape Growers (CAWG) and the Agricultural Council of California.

“She is very familiar with all the issues pertinent to California agriculture. It is good to have her back home,” said DiBuduo.

Ross has been chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a little more than a year. She left CAWG to take the USDA post.

The announcement also drew quick praise from the Western Growers Association.

“This is an outstanding choice for agriculture,” said Tom Nassif, Western Growers president and chief executive officer. “We look forward to working with Karen. She is experienced and well acquainted with the needs and challenges of the specialty crop industry.”

“I know Karen and have worked with her in the past. She knows California agriculture. I congratulate her on her appointment and look forward to working with her in the days ahead in her new position,” said Earl Williams, president and CEO of California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations.

“Gov. Brown made an outstanding choice in selecting Karen Ross. She knows and understands California agriculture and is experienced on state, federal and international issues,” said John Aguirre president of CAWG. “The governor’s appointment of Ross is very reassuring to the California winegrape industry.”
 
Kim Ledbetter-Bronson, partner in Vino Farms and chair of CAWG, stated, “The appointment of Karen Ross tells me Gov. Brown understands the importance of CDFA to the agricultural community.”  Ledbetter-Bronson added, “I know Karen will bring steady, thoughtful leadership to the department.”

Ross moves into state government at a time when California is facing massive deficits with a new governor who vows to make the state live within its means. Brown has already made massive cuts and he did not spare CDFA. He has already announced deep cuts in CDFA’s budget.

“In light of the governor’s direction that $15 million less this coming year and $30 million thereafter will be cut from the general fund dollars going to the department, we feel that Karen Ross has the energy, knowledge and relationships to successfully tackle the challenges ahead for CDFA and the agricultural community,” said California Grape and Tree Fruit League president Barry Bedwell.

Ross served as CAWG president from 1996 to 2009. She was vice president of government relations for the Agricultural Council of California from 1989 to 1996. She served as a member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture from 2001 to 2009.

The appointment requires confirmation by the California Senate.

From 1985-88 she was the Government Relations Director for the Nebraska Rural Electric Association, based in Lincoln. She directed the state office in Lincoln of U.S. Sen. Ed Zorinsky, D-Neb., from 1978-85. She was born and grew up on a family farm in western Nebraska, where her family still farms.

Ross was one of at least three names that surfaced to replace A. G. Kawamura. Former state senator Mike Machado, a farmer from Linden, Calif., and Bill Lyons, former CDFA secretary who has a ranch in the Modesto area, also were mentioned as possible Kawamura successors.