(UPDATED COVERAGE, 2:25 p.m.)

Despite the fiscal malaise facing California’s government, the state’s agricultural community has reacted strongly and positively to the announcement that Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed Karen Ross to be the new secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

New California agriculture secretary is  ‘one of us’

Ross

“I think the governor has made an excellent selection, particularly at a time when the challenges are so great,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

Echoing Bedwell’s opinion was Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of Western Growers, Irvine.

“This is an outstanding choice for agriculture,” he said in a news release. “Karen is experienced and well acquainted with the needs and challenges of the specialty crop industry. We know she will listen to the concerns of farmers and producers while keeping the best interests of California at heart.”

Dave Puglia Sr., vice president for Western Growers, is the organization’s point man in Sacramento and worked with her on agriculture issues in the past.

“For those of us who work in Sacramento on behalf of the industry, Karen is a colleague, a partner, a friend and someone we trust implicitly.”

Puglia is cautiously optimistic that Ross will be able to address the “regulatory overload unique to California that is hammering so many farmers in this state.”

Ross, chief of staff for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack since November 2009, was president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996 until leaving for the federal post. Prior to that, she was vice president of governmental relations for the Agricultural Council of California for seven years.

Bedwell, whose friendship with Ross dates back many years, said she has an established reputation in Sacramento.

“The things one always remembers about Karen are her energy, her vitality and her zest for challenges,” he said. “She has limitless energy, and she’s one of us.”

If confirmed by the California Senate, Ross will succeed A.J. Kawamura, appointed to the post by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003. Confirmation appears to be assured. In addition to strong support from the industry, Brown is a Democrat, and the party holds a large majority in the Senate.