In a move that drew praise from industry lobbyists, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has appointed Karen Ross as a senior adviser.

Ross, who most recently has served for 13 years as president of the Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers, was earlier this year touted by some industry leaders as a top candidate for the agency secretary post for marketing and regulatory affairs.

While not tabbed for that post — Iowan John Ferrell was picked — Ross will now have the ear of the agriculture secretary on important specialty crop issues, lobbyists said in December.

“We’re very pleased with the appointment,” said Cathy Enright, vice president of government affairs for Western Growers’ Washington, D.C., office. “It is great she will be bringing specialty crop expertise into the office of the secretary.”

“Karen is a great addition to Secretary Vilsack’s staff,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association.

Guenther said Ross had been a valuable member of the Specialty Crop Alliance Steering Committee since it began in 2007.

“She will provide unique insight to USDA regarding not only the wine and viticulture area but her understanding and passion for specialty crop policy issues is tremendous,” Guenther said in a Dec. 8 e-mail.

Enright said she expects Ross will lend insights to Vilsack on a variety of issues, including the implementation of the 2008 farm bill, environmental issues, pest issues, climate change, labor, immigration and health care.  Ross began her new role with the USDA in early December.