Bethany Baratta

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Rural Route 2: Farming in heaven

April 1, 2024 | Bethany Baratta

When I learned that Bill Northey passed away unexpectedly in early February, I was on my way to North Carolina to meet with other soybean industry stakeholders, collaborating on how we can use our strengths and talents to lift each group’s messages for the betterment of the industry. The next day, I learned that former Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) President Wayne Fredericks had passed after a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer.

I learned a great deal from these two men who were well respected in the agricultural community.

Working as an ag writer for another publication during his tenure as Iowa’s ag secretary, Secretary Northey was patient and responsive as I called seeking comments and updates on the impact of avian influenza on the state’s flocks. Despite it being a tough time for farmers, Northey always had the confidence in Iowa’s farmers and that brighter days were yet to come. After serving as the Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Northey was serving as the CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa at the time of his passing. I often saw Northey at events in Iowa, most recently at an event in Des Moines. Northey was so proud to be a fourth-generation farmer in Iowa.

When I started as a senior writer for the Iowa Soybean Association five years ago, I accompanied Iowa soybean farmers on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to talk about farmer priorities in the offices of our elected leaders. There, Wayne Fredericks’ confidence shined. He could strike up a conversation about taxes and lead to a discussion about monarch butterflies and his passion for conservation. Joining Wayne in the D.C. offices was like being in a master’s class in professional ag advocacy. In November 2023, I had the honor of visiting Wayne and his wife Ruth in their home in Osage. I joined a few others in presenting him with his ISA Legacy of Leadership Award. He shared lessons on leadership and what it means to ‘show up’ and not just appear in Washington, D.C. No conversation with Wayne was complete without talking about his conservation efforts. I crafted a story for the February Iowa Soybean Review, not knowing it would be our last visit.

Their farms were undoubtedly their pieces of heaven on earth — Northey’s near Spirit Lake and Fredericks’ near Osage. I wonder what their fields are like in heaven. Do they appear like the ones they were so proud to tend here on Earth? Will Bill and Wayne be planting soon, or can they plant year-round given the perfect conditions? Regardless, I wish I could revel in their wisdom as another planting season begins. We all do.