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USDA names key NRCS staffUSDA names key NRCS staff

Terry Cosby named NRCS chief and Meryl Harrell named deputy undersecretary for NRE.

Jacqui Fatka

May 19, 2021

3 Min Read
Vilsack Terry Cosby NRCS.jpg
Pictured in 2016, then Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Ohio State Conservationist Terry Cosby held a teleconference event for farmers.USDA Flickr

USDA announced Wednesday the appointment of Meryl Harrell as deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the appointment of Terry Cosby as chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They will begin their positions on Monday, May 24.

Harrell most recently served as the executive director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards. She has also served as a consultant, advising non-profits, foundations and government agencies working to conserve America's public and private working lands. During the Obama-Biden Administration, Harrell spent eight years in the Office of Natural Resources and Environment at USDA, including serving as chief of staff and then senior adviser to the undersecretary. Harrell previously worked on public lands issues at The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C.

Harrell received her J.D. from the Yale Law School, where she studied environmental law, and graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. in geosciences and environmental studies from Princeton University. Originally from New Jersey and more recently based in Atlanta, Georgia, Harrell can often be found out on the trails in our national forests with her husband and two children.

As NRCS chief, Cosby will serve America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in their conservation efforts to help them conserve, maintain and improve natural resources and the environment through a network of over 3,000 offices in communities nationwide.

“Terry is no stranger to natural resource management, and his decades-long experience as a conservationist and business team leader has proven his commitment to protecting natural resources and building sustainable conservation solutions,” National Association of Conservation Districts President Michael Crowder says. “As longtime partners with NRCS, we look forward to working with Terry on the federal, state and local level, and I applaud Secretary Vilsack for appointing such a strong leader.”

Raised on a cotton farm in Tallahatchie County, Miss., Cosby’s love for the land began at an early age when he was actively involved on his family’s third-generation farm, which was purchased by his great-grandfather in the late 1800s. Cosby began his career with NRCS over 40 years ago and first served as a student trainee in Iowa in 1979. In addition to serving as acting chief of NRCS prior to this appointment, Cosby has also served NRCS as the state conservationist for Ohio, which was the first state to use Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds for forestry programs under his leadership.

“I am confident that Terry will continue leading NRCS in the right direction in partnership with NACD and the nation’s 3,000 locally-led conservation districts,” Crowder adds. “His extensive experience in conservation as a farmer, a sportsman and state conservationist will further strengthen NRCS’s impact on the nation’s land as we work with our national partners to support America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners and their conservation efforts through innovative program delivery and effective customer service.”

Cosby holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Education from Alcorn State University, the first Black land grant college established in the United States, and resides in Ohio with his wife Brenda and their four children.

“The leadership and expertise of Meryl and Terry will play an integral role in USDA’s efforts to provide personnel, science, and technology that will lead to better-informed and more effective land management decisions; partnerships to address climate adaptation, conservation, and ecological resilience; and clean energy technology and infrastructure,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We are fortunate to have them on our team.”

About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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