Class is in session

September 8, 2022 | Jeff Hutton

Advocacy, getting involved, learning the intricacies of farm policy while also sharing the personal side of farming.

Those were a few takeaways from the first session of the 2022-23 Iowa-Missouri Policy Leaders Fellowship (IA-MO PLF) program last week.

This second annual gathering brought together young farmers from across Iowa and Missouri in an effort to demonstrate the importance of legislative involvement, outreach, education and engagement in the issues that impact soybean producers every day.

“We’re really excited to kick off year two of the Iowa-Missouri Policy Leaders Fellowship with a diverse group of Midwestern farmers from varying backgrounds, geographies and cropping systems,” says Michael Dolch, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Director of Public Affairs.

“This year’s program will allow participants to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the legislative and regulatory process, as well as the art of advocacy. After a successful pilot program, farmer directors leading the Iowa and Missouri soybean associations doubled down in support of the program and its mission to equip young farmers with the knowledge, know-how and the conduit to shape farm policy.”

New perspectives

This year’s IA-MO PLF participants have already gained insights into what it takes to create solid farm policy and legislation.

“The most beneficial part thus far has been learning more about the farm bill and how it comes together. It’s not just a one-year process,” says Missouri farmer and teacher Rhonda Oesch of Mooresville, Mo.

“I really was interested in the farm bill information that was presented,” says Neil Krummen of Linn Grove in northwest Iowa. “And how many people it takes to work through that.”

During this first session, Oesch, Krummen and their fellow attendees heard from James Glueck and Trey Forsyth of Michael Torrey Associates in Washington, D.C., who detailed the complex process it takes to create, page by page and line by line, the Farm Bill.

They heard from legislative liaisons from Steph Carlson and Jake Swanson, who work respectively with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on agricultural issues.

“It’s a unique responsibility that we can’t take lightly,” says Carlson, who notes it’s important that elected officials hear from farmers and others directly about the issues that have and will impact them out in the field. “You help shape policy.”

Swanson agrees and says establishing ag policy is “very much a team sport,” involving farmers, legislators, stakeholders and others like the ISA.

Being engaged early

IA-MO PLF participants also heard the importance of ongoing research efforts, like Adam Kiel and Joe Winchell with the Soil & Water Outcomes Fund and Roger Wolf and Joe McClure, co-directors of ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation (RCFI), while also gaining insight from Grant Kimberley and Mike Steenhoek, ISA’s director of market development and director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, respectively.

Leadership was also at the forefront of this first session with comments from ISA President Jeff Ewoldt and President-elect Randy Miller.

“I really enjoyed listening to Ewoldt and Miller and finding out that they’re proud of us, knowing we want to help continue to build on a foundation of leadership,” says Lisa Obrecht of Zearing in Story County. “Knowing that they’re behind us and that they and the ISA is investing in us is pretty cool.”

Being involved in organizations like the ISA could also prove beneficial in the future.

Bill Northey and Richard Fordyce shared their stories with the group, detailing their own experiences through different organizations, which led to both serving as the top ag officials within their respective states, as well as a stint each at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“Neither of us could imagine where we would be,” says Northey, the former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and later USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services. “We started off as farmers and got involved in different farm organizations.”

Fordyce agreed.

The former Missouri Director of Agriculture and USDA Farm Service Agency director, says early participation in statewide and national organizations, helped him to serve in these types of leadership positions. He’s now the business growth director for Osborn Barr Paramore.

“It’s important to be engaged and don’t be intimidated by the process,” says Northey, who now serves as CEO of Agribusiness Association of Iowa. “Feel emboldened in telling your story.”

Fordyce offered the same passion:

“Take these opportunities seriously,” he says. “Advocacy and/or the participation in events like these should be in your farm budget.”

“Whenever you give, you get more back through the magic of the association,” Northey says. “You can contribute a little, but together you can do a lot. You’ve got to work; you’ve got to listen and engage.”

Selling a positive message

Messaging the good work of soybean farmers should not be left to only commodity organizations and PR firms.

During the final day of the first session, IA-MO PLF farmers heard from Alex Templeton, a farmer/rancher from northwest Missouri, who has created her own niche in the world of social media.

Templeton’s “Ag Talk with Alex” has become an internet sensation, reaching thousands of farmers and non-farmers around the globe on multiple social media platforms.

Through Instagram, Templeton started posting as a student at the University of Missouri, on issues related to hunting and farming.

The posts garnered attention and it prompted Templeton to focus on her family farm/ranching operation, specifically her efforts in raising cattle.

“It started gaining traction,” she says. “People have no idea on what we do out here. I realized how far removed they are from the ranch and the farm.”

Short vignettes, funny and touching photos and videos, displaying what happens on a cow-calf operation has proven popular with viewers.

It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Templeton says.

Positive, popular and profitable.

Templeton’s posts highlighted opportunities to market cattle direct to consumers, capitalizing on a way for the public and others to access cattle purchases as well as establishing ties to other companies.

Templeton encouraged the PLF participants to highlight their soybean production efforts.

“If you’re going to post on social media, admittedly it’s hard to put yourself out there,” she says. “But it’s more embarrassing if you don’t give it your all. If you’re going to farm, you have to go all in. You have to create your own story.”

Templeton says consistent posting could prove beneficial in the social media world, because people, especially non-farmers, want to know what’s going on in rural America.

“Being young, sometimes it’s hard to make a living,” she says. “It’s a side hustle that can be a positive. Agriculture is an incredibly diverse and complex industry. The best way to connect is through social media. The next generation of decision-makers are on social media. It’s on our shoulders to share our stories in a positive light. This is our reality now, and you can either jump on board and join the social media train and advocate from online … or not.”

First session review

Ideas presented to the IA-MO PLF class this past week have been eye-opening to members.

“When you’re involved in agriculture, it’s extremely important to be politically aware, to be connected and willing to share your story. You need to use your voice to be effective and to help lobby for your cause. If you don’t, you’ll get ran over,” says Matt Moreland from Harrisonville, Mo.

“It’s refreshing to see people from another state working toward that. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that.”

Oesch says the class is getting her “one step closer to understanding how this all works and how farm policy is made. Through this next year I hope to understand more about policy and bring that back to my community. I also teach agriculture part-time, and I want to bring this information to the classroom. Conversations come up between farmers and parents and this will be helpful to share that knowledge.”

Networking and sharing the soybean farmer’s story is critical.

“I just finished up with another leadership class with the Iowa Corn Growers,” Krummen says. “I’m really interested in helping the Iowa Soybean Association, helping them, informing people as to what we do, how we do it and offer a positive outlook. I want to meet new people and start networking where I can help the ISA.”

His colleague wholeheartedly agreed.

“I’m wanting to learn to be an advocate for policies and regulations for the Iowa farmer; learning the inside ropes and increasing my awareness so I can share the story of Iowa soybean farmers,” Obrecht says.

“My goal with the PLF is to play a role in shaping policy and help drive the demand for soybeans.”