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New Farm Service Agency state executive director for Minnesota grew up in Okabena

Whitney Place, formerly an assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, spent time on her family's Sioux Valley farm as a child.

Whitney Place
Whitney Place
Submitted photo

ST. PAUL — Long before President Joe Biden appointed her Farm Service Agency executive director for the state of Minnesota earlier this month, Whitney Place was learning about agriculture at Southwest Star Concept School and on the family farm.

“I definitely credit growing up in Okabena for the reason I got into agriculture,” Place said.

As a child, technically Place lived in town, but she spent a lot of time on the family farm in Sioux Valley, where her grandmother, Verlene Place Walsh, still resides. Her father, Keith Place, was an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at SSC, and he still farms today.

“I took a lot of agriculture courses. I also took a lot of science classes,” said Place, sharing that the school had a greenhouse, allowing her interest in plant sciences to grow and flourish.

After graduating from SSC, Place earned a bachelor’s degree in applied plant science and a master’s degree in science, technology and environmental policy from the University of Minnesota.

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Since 2012, she has been working for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in various roles, most recently as assistant commissioner.

Her new role as executive director of the Farm Service Agency began Jan. 18.

“I’m really, really grateful and honored to have been selected and to be able to serve in this way,” Place said. “I've worked really hard the last decade in Minnesota government, and hopefully I've built some strong relationships with farmers and agricultural organizations.”

Minnesota agriculture covers a vast array of crops, livestock and other products, and as the executive director of the Farm Service Agency, Place will lead an organization serving farmers in all 87 counties.

Farmers can visit one of the 72 service centers across the state to access programs from the Farm Bill, meaning that Place will be in direct contact with farmers on the ground, coordinating with them and getting them involved in FSA programs.

“Minnesota has a lot of diverse crops across the state and a lot of different geography,” Place said. “In my previous job at the (Minnesota) Department of Agriculture, I really got out to see a lot of the state, and I’m really hoping to do that in this position too.”

FSA has a wide variety of programs. It’s where farmers sign up for crop insurance and access loans. There are dairy programs and programs to help transition to organic farming.

Place’s first priority in the new position will be to provide excellent customer service to farmers, with the ability to respond quickly to any market or natural disasters, she said, noting that last year Minnesota experienced its biggest drought in 30 years. Many programs also exist to help farmers who have lost market opportunities due to COVID-19.

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She also hopes to ensure that the Farm Service Agency is delivering programs to — and being welcoming to — everyone, including women farmers and farmers who are black, indigenous or people of color.

“There is a spot for everyone in agriculture,” Place said.

She is also interested in environmental policy. The Farm Service Agency oversees some of the conservation programs from the Farm Bill, such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Place hopes to make sure those continue, but also that they are promoted in a way that works for farmers.

“It's really an honor to get to join the Biden-Harris administration, and any farmers can contact me at any time if they have issues with FSA programs,” Place said.

To contact Place, email whitney.place@usda.gov.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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