Delaware Farm Bureau announces new executive director

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DOVER – On Friday, the Delaware Farm Bureau announced that farmer Wm. Donald Clifton II as its new executive director.

Mr. Clifton brings a variety of farming and agribusiness experience with him to his new job.

The Clifton family has grown grains and soybeans, and processed vegetables in northeast Sussex County since the 1920s. In addition, they operated Clifton Canning Company, a vegetable cannery, for nearly 50 years before closing the operation in 1995.

“We even maintained a three hundred head beef herd up into the 1980s. As a kid all I wanted was to follow in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. Through all the ups and downs, good years and difficult ones, I’ve been fortunate to do that, along with a few other things,” Mr. Clifton said.

The Milford-farmer explained that his vegetable processing experience required a grasp of federal FDA regulations as well as state DNREC regulations.

“I was the point man for dealing with all things regulatory, both on the farm and the processing plant. That experience helps in this new position, working on behalf of Delaware farmers,” he said.

Mr. Clifton has received Presidential appointments as State Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency twice, serving in the Clinton and Obama administrations. In addition to performing his Delaware responsibilities, he was occasionally tapped to perform detail service at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. working on items from administrative streamlining to policy on farm lending program delivery. Back in Delaware, he was responsible for the development of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) for the state.

“Don is an outstanding choice (for the Delaware Farm Bureau),” Delaware’s Department of Agriculture (DDA) Secretary Michael Scuse said. “I’ve known Don for many years. Don was the State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency and did an outstanding job working for Delaware farmers. I think Don will be an asset to not just Farm Bureau, but to the agricultural community.”

The Clifton Farms, Inc. currently grows about one thousand acres of crops. The Cliftons maintain a fleet of pea and lima bean harvesters to harvest their own crops and those of other local farmers. Clifton Farms, Inc. also operates a vegetable cleaning facility, handling about five million pounds of baby lima beans annually for Seabrook Brothers & Sons, of Seabrook, NJ.

“Vegetable processing must be in my blood,” said Mr. Clifton.

In 2001, after his first stint with FSA, Mr. Clifton and his wife Ruth established Farmers First Services, Inc., an agricultural consulting business through which they developed and presented crop insurance education programs for farmers through partnership agreements between Delaware’s Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension, and the USDA Risk Management Agency.

Clifton also served on then Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s Strategic Economic Council as the co-chair for Agriculture and Biotechnology from 2001-2002.

“One of the recommendations the SEC brought forward was funding for a crop insurance cost-share program. Gov. Minner adopted the recommendation and the General Assembly provided funding for four years. It helped farmers obtain higher levels of coverage and reduce risk.” said Mr. Clifton. “And we were able to devise a program delivery method which incurred zero administrative cost to the taxpayer or the farmer.”

Longtime acquaintance and former DDA Secretary Ed Kee said, “First of all, Donnie has been an active farmer himself, being the third generation of the Clifton family on the land, so he really understands all the factors that impact family farms. He’s been there; he’s done that. His family has seen the ups and downs. That gives him a real empathy for what the farmer goes through. That will help him a lot as he gets going in the job. He is well versed in agriculture policy, too, so he’ll be a good watchdog for policy. The third and final thing is that deep down in his gut, he believes agriculture is important, important to Delaware and to the farmers and their families and he has a great love for agriculture in Delaware.”

Delaware Farm Bureau President Richard Wilkins said the Delaware Farm Bureau is pleased to have Mr. Clifton on the job.

“Don Clifton’s knowledge of Delaware’s agriculture is extensive and impressive. He understands what is needed to assure the sustainability of farming in Delaware. He is a welcome addition to our Farm Bureau team which will continue our advocacy on behalf of our farmers, their families, and our consumers.”

Mr. Clifton replaces Joseph Poppiti who resigned in the fall last year.

The Cliftons reside near Milford. They have seven grown children and ten grandchildren. For more information on the Delaware Farm Bureau, visit www.defb.org.