Dr. 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.

“J.B. Penn’s experience and leadership, from his diligent actions to assure timely implementation of the 2002 farm bill’s provisions that assist domestic producers to his steadfast efforts to reduce trade barriers and increase our agricultural exports, have worked to improve the economic outlook for America's farmers and ranchers,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

“His vision for international trade and development on behalf of our producers and agribusinesses is recognized around the world, and I have valued his counsel and determination through the many months of tough negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda.”

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.

Johanns said he wanted to thank Penn for his personal service. “He will be missed at USDA, and we wish him the best.”

Penn served as the deputy administrator for economics with USDA’s Economics and Statistics Service from 1978-81, after having worked as a senior staff economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisors from 1977-78. He was an agricultural economist with the Economic Research Service from 1975-77, where he worked on the 1977 farm bill.

Besides a B.S. degree in agriculture from Arkansas State University, he received his Master’s of Science degree in agricultural economics from Louisiana State University and a Ph.D. degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind.

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