Arlen Lancaster, a veteran Senate staffer and USDA congressional liaison representative, has been selected to be the new chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

He succeeds Bruce K. Knight, who was recently confirmed by the Senate as the new undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, the position formerly held by Hernando, Miss., native Bob Hawks.

“Arlen Lancaster’s dedication, leadership and experience has well prepared him to serve in this new leadership role on our USDA team,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “He has a passion for conservation, and I look forward to working with Arlen in this new capacity.”

Lancaster has served as deputy assistant secretary of congressional relations at USDA since April 2005. Prior to that, he held various senior staff positions in Congress, having worked since 1999 for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, as a senior policy advisor.

As the staff director for the Senate Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation, and Rural Revitalization since 2001, he played a key role in crafting the conservation title of the 2002 farm bill. He also worked for Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, from 1998 to 1999.

As chief of NRCS, Lancaster will lead the primary federal agency that works directly with private landowners to help them conserve, maintain and improve their natural resources. NRCS emphasizes voluntary, science-based conservation; technical assistance; partnerships; incentive-based programs and cooperative problem solving at the community level.

“I’m very confident that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will have a strong advocate in him for improving the quality of our natural resources and conserving our land,” said Johanns in announcing Lancaster’s selection.