J.B. Penn, undersecretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services and one of the few members of USDA's top hierarchy with ties to the Mid-South, has submitted his resignation, effective at the end of August.

A native of Lynn, Ark., and a graduate of Arkansas State University, Penn had overseen the activities of the Farm Service agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service and the Risk Management Agency since being sworn in as undersecretary in May 2001. His resignation letter said only that he planned to return to the private sector.

Penn was serving as senior vice president and manager of the Washington, D.C., office of Sparks Companies, Inc., when he was tapped by then-Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to become undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, the third highest-ranking post at USDA.

Prior to joining Sparks, he was president of the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Perspectives, Inc., an agricultural policy consulting firm.

Although he hailed from the Mid-South, Penn's political and economic philosophy differed markedly from cotton and rice farmers who make up the majority of producers in the region, according to Washington observers.

While the majority of the latter have been strong supporters of farm programs, Penn reportedly was one of USDA's chief proponents of the farm program reform that was expected to be the cornerstone of the administration's approach to the 2007 farm bill.