With connections that go back 35 years in the fresh produce industry, Bob Keeney plans to retire from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October.

USDA-AMS deputy administrator to retire in OctoberKeeney, 61, confirmed through the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service press office that he plans retire from his post as AMS deputy administrator this fall.

Industry leaders say his familiarity with issues of concern will be missed.

“Bob’s career has been devoted to serving the produce industry, first in the private sector, heading government relations at our association, and for the past 25 years at the Agricultural Marketing Service at USDA,” United Fresh Produce Association Tom Stenzel said in a statement. “Throughout his leadership on (the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act), produce inspection and other AMS programs, Bob has been a great friend of the industry and I’m fortunate to say, a personal friend,” according to Stenzel’s statement.

Keeney was hired by the then-United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association in Alexandria, Va., in 1977, working ten years at the association and eventually becoming vice president for government relations and international trade.

Keeney was selected deputy director of fruit and vegetable programs at AMS in 1987.

His duties as deputy administrator for USDA AMS fruit and vegetable programs have made him one of the most recognizable figure at USDA to fresh produce industry leaders. Keeney oversees USDA programs responsible for fruit and vegetable inspections, marketing order and marketing agreement oversight, market news, enforcement of the Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act and $350 million in annual commodity purchases for domestic feeding programs.

Keeney has been present at every meeting of the USDA’s fruit and vegetable advisory committee, which was first appointed in 2002 and last met in 2011. The committee has provided USDA with input on a wide range of issues, including nutrition programs, farm bill funding, commodity purchasing, and Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act regulations.

“Bob’s legacy is that, when he retires, he will be leaving an agency that reflects his willingness to listen to the produce industry and tailor programs to facilitate the marketing of fruits and vegetables,” Tom O’Brien, Washington, D.C., based-representative for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said in a statement.

Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., said Keeney will be missed.

“I have deep respect for Bob Keeney, not only for his knowledge but his humor and quick understanding of the issues that the industry deals with,” Foster said.

Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm, said Keeney has been a counselor and a sounding board for the industry.

“He uniquely understood our needs and was able to merge those needs into the regulatory process at USDA,” Quarles said.