Advisory Council

The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Advisory Council (CAESAC) was created in November 1996 by consolidating the State Extension Advisory Council and the Georgia Agricultural Experiment Stations Research Advisory Board. This was done to reflect changes in the college and to help our stakeholders understand the equal importance of all functions of the college (teaching, research and Extension).

Purpose and Mission

The CAES Advisory Council is a spokesperson for the college to outside organizations, understands the programs of the college and makes recommendations on priorities, and becomes familiar with the college budget process and funding needs in order to ensure the support of the agricultural and environmental needs of the state.

The council seeks stakeholder advice and counsel to ensure that the programs of the college are responsive to the needs of Georgia residents. Its makeup is purposely diverse. The carefully selected, knowledgeable members come from both the smallest communities and largest cities across Georgia and they represent many different commodities, occupations and interest groups.

The council members work closely with college faculty, staff and administrators in reviewing ongoing programs and identifying and planning high-priority future programs. Council members also provide information to Georgia residents about the role of the college in generating and dispensing knowledge and new technology about agriculture, food and the environment.

Meet the 2022-2023 Advisory Council Members:

2022-2024 Chairperson

Casey Cox Kerr is the sixth generation of her family to farm on the Flint River in South Georgia. Her family farm, Longleaf Ridge, produces sweet corn, peanuts, field corn, soybeans, and timber.

Prior to returning to the farm full-time, Casey managed the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, serving as Executive Director for over 5 years where she secured and managed over $13 million in funding for conservation programs. She was recently appointed by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to serve as Georgia’s Board Member on the National Peanut Board.

Casey is a graduate of the Leadership Georgia Class of 2019 and the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2016. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Florida. Her most significant professional accomplishment to date is teaching Cookie Monster and Gonger how peanut butter is made on Season 49 of Sesame Street.

Casey and her husband Chris reside between Rome and Camilla Georgia.

Explore Casey's feature on Cultivate

Grant Belden is the Senior Director of Supply Chain for Golden Peanut Company. He leverages a strong commercial background within agriculture, sustainability, and trade in aligning business leaders across workstreams to achieve the business plan while meeting the needs of customers/suppliers. Golden Peanut Company (GPC) is a 100% owned subsidiary of Archer Daniels Midland Company, headquartered in Alpharetta, GA. GPC operates 5 shelling operations located in the USA and Argentina, 1 Peanut Crushing and Refinery, and 1 Specialty Products business.

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Troy Bland is the results-driven Chief Executive Office of Bland Farms, the largest grower, packer and shipper of sweet onions in the United States. As CEO, Troy effectively manages approximately 600 employees in numerous operations and facilities in 3 countries. He is focused on the impact of long-range growth initiatives, planning, and introduction of new strategies and regulatory actions with a focus on innovation to meet customers’ ever-changing needs.

Produce Business 40 Under 40 award recipient, past Chairperson of the Vidalia® Onion Committee, Advisory Board Member of the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee, and past Board Member of REACH Georgia illustrate Troy’s commitment to Bland Farms, the produce industry, and our future workforce.

Outside of work, Troy enjoys spending time with his wife, Mary Katelyn, and two sets of twins, Harris, Rubye Kate, Lilly Beth, and Mary Ella. When he is not working or with his family you can often find him with friends fishing, golfing, or watching Georgia football.

Chris Butts joined the GFVGA team in 2020 following twelve years with the Georgia Green Industry Association as both Director of Legislative Affairs and Executive Director. A third-generation bulldog, he has spent a lifetime in agriculture growing up in the family nursery business. Coming from the industry, Chris prides himself on appreciating the day-to-day issues, challenges, and opportunities that our unique industry presents. Chris serves as a member of the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council and is a former Chairman of the Advisory Board for Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture. He resides outside of Athens in Oconee County with his wife Trina.

Bucky Cook is an honor graduate of the University of Georgia where he received a BBA in Business Administration in 1977.  Cook enjoyed a successful career in the property/liability insurance industry from his graduation until 1984.  In that year, he left the insurance industry to become involved with the startup of Heavenly Ham. Bucky currently serves as an instructor in the Entrepreneurship School at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, teaching a course he developed covering the franchise industry.

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Ben Copeland, Jr serves as president and CEO of Patten Seed Company. Patten Seed is best known for its Turfgrass products sold under the Super-Sod brand. Ben graduated from the University of Georgia with a BS in Agriculture.

Ben currently serves on the Boards of The Georgia Seed Development Commission, YC Holdings, the Middle Ocmulgee Water Council and the Georgia Sod Producers Council with past positions on the boards of Georgia Crop Improvement Association and Perry Presbyterian Church.

Ben and his wife Kelly have five children, one of which is a CAES alumni and another who is studying at UGA now. Ben is passionate about informing young people of the great opportunities agriculture presents.

Freeman Elliot is the president of Orkin, U.S.A. Explore Freeman's professional journey and insights for current students in an exclusive Cultivate interview, where the pest control president talks about his career path and recommendations for success along with why he works with UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Craig Ganssle is the Founder and CEO of Cadre-AI, Inc, an artificial intelligence technology company that architects purpose-built autonomous AI solutions to deliver value. Today, Craig leads a seasoned team of visionaries, technical engineers, designers, and strategists working together to introduce Farmwave; Cadre’s agriculture division. Powered by a proprietary and extensive dataset, which includes 3 approved patents, Farmwave adds value with a unified intelligent platform across multiple channels in agriculture. With integrated smart tools, Farmwave increases agriculture profits in the billions on an annual basis. In addition to agriculture, Cadre has developed purpose-built solutions adding value for clients in manufacturing, smart spaces, and marketing automations.

Read Craig's entire biography

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Mike Giles is President of the Georgia Poultry Federation, a trade association which represents the poultry industry in Georgia, the nation’s leading poultry producing state.

Giles joined the Federation staff on January 1, 2000 as Assistant Executive Director.  He was named President in January 2009. Prior assuming his position with the Federation, Giles worked for the University of Georgia in the Office of External Affairs and University of Georgia Alumni Association. 

Before joining the University of Georgia, Giles held positions with U.S. Senator Sam Nunn and Sandoz Corporation.

Giles is a 1983 graduate of the University of Georgia and a native of Unadilla, Georgia.  He is married to Carla Rae Abshire who is originally from Louisiana and a graduate of the University of Georgia with a PhD in Child and Family Development.

Krysta Harden leverages a strong background within agriculture, sustainability and food policy in fulfilling USDEC’s mission to promote dairy exports and enrich the well-being of people, communities and the planet. In February 2021, Harden became only the third president and CEO to lead USDEC since its inception in 1995 and its first female chief executive.

At USDEC, she directs a staff of dairy trade specialists, trade policy professionals, a global marketing team, a strategy and insights team, and oversees 10 international offices working to facilitate dairy product and ingredient application knowledge, identify market opportunities, monitor regulatory activity and work toward improving the business climate for U.S. dairy.

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Caroline Bakker Hofland is the president and CEO of CBH International, Inc. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees with a major in Agricultural Economics from the University of Georgia.

Caroline has a daughter, Nicole who has graduated successfully in CAES at UGA and now doing her master’s degree at the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands. In her leisure time, she enjoys being with family and friends, and has many hobbies — riding dressage with her PRE horses, showing her Great Danes, photography, cooking, listening to music, especially the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and traveling.

Read Caroline's entire biography

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Tim Miller was born and raised in rural Ellijay, Georgia. Tim received his associate degree from Truett-McConnell Jr. College in Cleveland, GA. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (UGA-CAES) with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Mechanization Technology.

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Jason Richardson, Ph.D. is the Global Quality and Food Safety Director of The Coca-Cola Company, a position held since Jan 2021.  In this role, Jason leads a team of Quality and Food Safety professionals accountable for delivering global strategic and operational leadership to progress quality and food safety programs across the Coca-Cola system to ensure excellence in everything we do for our consumers and customers.

Read Jason's entire biography

Matt Rushing is currently Vice President, Product Management, Global Gold Harvesting. He is leading a global team responsible for the future development of smart harvesting technologies and systems at AGCO Corporation

The gold harvesting product line is focused on finding ways to enhance grower profitability while reducing farm waste through advanced technologies, services and machine systems. He works as part of a strong internal product development and integration team, market support team and with strategic partners to leverage AGCO Harvesting systems that can enhance growers efficiencies and support global demand for food and fiber.

Matt started working as part of the AGCO team in the year 2000. He has held positions in Sales Support, Sales, Product Line Leadership and Product Management for both the North American and European regions. He has lived and worked in the UK and Switzerland as well as the US and has experience working in South America, Africa, Asia Pacific and multiple countries in Western, Central and Eastern Europe. He is currently based at the AGCO Global HQ in Duluth Georgia USA. He resides in Flowery Branch GA with his wife of 26 years, Amber and has two grown children, Matteson and Annabel.

Matt has more than 25 years of experience in the agricultural equipment industry, having started with a family farming background in Western KY, John Deere and Deutz Engine NA before joining AGCO. 

He enjoys working closely with farmers and being a part of the advancements in technology that agriculture and similar markets use to more effectively and efficiently feed the world.

Lindy Savelle is a retired Federal Law Enforcement Officer turned citrus farmer. Lindy retired in 2019 from a federal law enforcement career spanning over 34 years; she was a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Upon her retirement, Lindy and her husband, Perry, returned to their roots in Mitchell and Thomas County, Georgia, and began to bring their small farms back to life. While doing this, they sought to give back to their communities through the development of an alternative niche, yet sustainable agricultural commodity — citrus. 

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Jill Webb is the Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Manager for Cargill’s Newnan, Georgia Case Ready Protein business. Prior to Jill’s 20+ year career with Cargill, she worked with Gold Kist Poultry. Jill received her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree from the University of Georgia, majoring in Animal Science.

In addition to food safety and quality-related duties with Cargill, Jill is involved with college recruiting/interviewing and mentoring college interns and recent graduates as they begin their careers.

Outside of work, Jill and her husband Lee enjoy working on their hobby farm.

David Wicker is currently the director of live operations for the Live Production Group of Fieldale Farms.

Read David's entire biography

Ben Worley is the co-founder and CEO of Spiro Carbon, a US-based startup focused on democratizing the benefits of the carbon market for all stakeholders. The company utilizes advanced data collection, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to reduce the barriers to participation in carbon offset creation by smallholder farmers across Southeast Asia, India and Africa.

Ben began his career as an Air Force intelligence officer, becoming one of the nation’s foremost experts in the deployment of tactical unmanned aircraft for data collection. After years spent managing the operations, logistics and maintenance of various unmanned systems programs, in 2013 he was brought on as the Chief Operating Officer of VSG-Unmanned, an Atlanta-based aerial imaging and data solutions provider. VSG's target market was agriculture and it was through this exposure that Ben saw the true potential impact that data, used intelligently, could make in the Ag industry. In 2015, Ben left VSG and co-founded Agrisource Data to better serve the needs of the global Ag market by leveraging multisource data to provide hyperlocal insights into the food supply chain. After growing the company to operations in 12 countries across more than 1 million hectares of cropland, in 2022 Ben exited to launch Spiro Carbon and focus on helping drive positive climate action through sustainable agriculture.

Ben received his B.A. and MPA from Valdosta State University prior to entering the United States Air Force. His background includes work in the Defense, Telecommunications, Private Equity, Aerospace and Agriculture industries. When he’s not traveling to the company’s offices in Bangkok and Abu Dhabi, Ben, his wife and their two young children split their time between their home in Alpharetta, GA and their family farm in Ellijay, GA.

Karl Zimmer has served as President & CEO of Premium Peanut since July 2015.  Formed in the fall of 2014 and located in Douglas, Georgia, Premium Peanut is a grower-owned peanut sheller with close to $300 million in annual revenue, processing close to 15% of the U.S.’s peanut crop.  The company also operates a crush facility for peanut oil and recently announced an expansion into S. Carolina, starting construction on a greenfield specialty shelling facility.  Karl also serves as the Chairman of the American Peanut Council and is a past Chairman of the American Peanut Shellers Association. 

Read Karl's entire biography

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Additional 2022-2023 Advisory Council Members

Corey Dortch, Emory University

UGA Faculty and Staff

Nick T. Place, Dean and Director

Josef Broder, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

David Buntin, Interim Director, UGA Griffin Campus

Michael Toews, Assistant Dean, UGA Tifton 

Laura Perry Johnson, Associate Dean for Extension

Harsha Thippareddi, Interim Associate Dean for Research 

Regina Fitzpatrick, Director, External Affairs

Cassie Ann Kiggen, Chief Communications Officer

Mary Ann Parsons, Senior Director of Development

Chris Rhodes, Director, Industry Partnerships

Sean Rogers, Senior Director, Finance & Administration