Soybean farmers in Washington D.C.

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Policy isn't a spectator sport

July 21, 2022 | Jeff Hutton

If programs like the Iowa-Missouri Policy Leader Fellowship (PLF) were like the movies, the critics would rave that the 2021-22 collaborative was nothing short of being a summer blockbuster.

PLF participants, including nine Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) farmer members, completed their year-long initiative last week with a trip to Washington, D.C.

While there, they met with lawmakers, policy stakeholders and experienced firsthand the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) reporting process.

It was the culmination of a year-long study into the understanding of policies, law and regulations that impact agriculture, the soybean industry and rural America.

Behind the scenes

“I think that we learned a lot about how we can influence policy, going about understanding what policies we want, and taking those policies to D.C., and how we can enable our legislators to help us with those policies,” says Brian Strasser, an ISA farmer member from Homestead.

Fellow participant Aimee Bissell, of Bedford, agrees.

“We were able to learn more about the process of how to get an appointment, how to present our agenda with clear and concise messaging, and how ‘normal’ our elected officials truly are,” she says.

Josh Henik, of Mount Vernon, says the PLF experience demonstrated the importance of understanding policy and engaging with those who work directly on those matters in D.C. as well as back home in Des Moines.

“I think it’s extremely important for us as farmers to be involved,” he says. “People who show up make the decisions. It’s a good way to get involved in the process that will present more opportunities for us down the road.”

Tarin Tiefenthaler, of Carroll, says the experience provided her with a better understanding and appreciation for what happens behind the scenes.

“Policy doesn’t have to be intimidating. Ask the questions and be an informed farmer. You never know the impact you will have just by having a conversation,” she says. “Federal officials want to hear from folks here in Iowa. It helps them to do their job and be better informed about the issues we face as farmers.”

ISA Director of Public Affairs Michael Dolch says it’s clear this year’s participants are now in a better position to understand how policymaking works and that direct involvement is critical.

“As policy priorities and politics shift, the key to navigating a complex legislative and regulatory environment is to establish understanding, build and maintain strong relationships and communicate authenticity,” he says. “This continuum was on full display when the nine farmers from across Iowa traveled to the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) board meeting in Washington as part of the PLF.”

Dolch also pointed to the USDA WASDE Lockup, where participants witnessed how officials determine projections for the soybean market.

“To drive home the importance of education and understanding, let’s consider the USDA WASDE Report,” he says. “The USDA is often called into question for the accuracy of its monthly supply forecast and criticized for how the estimates can turn the market upside down. Now whether you agree or disagree with the final product, a basic understanding of the process is helpful.

“Fellows attended the secured WASDE Lockup and learned firsthand the lengths at which the market-sensitive projections are meticulously compiled, debated, and released to all end-users. I think all who joined the briefing walked away with a greater appreciation for the ‘bean counters’ and analysts that produce the report. One Fellow even commented that any farmer who criticizes the report should first sit through the lockup process.”

Tiefenthaler agrees:

“The questions from the economists and other folks provided great perspective on how it all works,” she says.


‘Great experience’

Dolch says this year’s PLF participants have taken the “policy isn’t a spectator sport” mantra to heart.

“These same folks joined ASA farmer directors on Capitol Hill for a day of advocacy. Meeting with Iowa’s congressional delegation, the Fellows exercised knowledge gained over the past year to discuss meaningful solutions to the challenges farmers are currently facing,” he says.

For Bissell, the PLF experience highlighted how strong an organization like the ISA is in delivering information to the decision makers in Des Moines and D.C.

“When you elect someone to represent your organization, they put great care into submitting your message in front of people who can put more teeth into it,” she says. “Iowa agriculture is alive, well and strong. It is being represented by powerhouse individuals.”

Strasser says there’s no question the PLF program is one he fully embraces.

“I definitely would recommend it for someone who wants to be involved in Iowa Soybean Association policy-driven fellowship and networking opportunities,” he says. “I liked getting into the political part of it, not necessarily red or blue, but understanding how it works. ISA is a wonderful organization to work with, and I want to get more involved more in the ISA because it’s a good organization.”

Henik says the PLF program is representative of the excellent work being done by the ISA.

“It’s pretty powerful,” he says. “I’m very impressed with the whole ISA organization and its PLF; more importantly by the professionalism the ISA demonstrates as an organization and how they navigate that process in Des Moines and D.C.”

Henik and his fellow PLF participants agree that the connections they made during this process, with other farmers, policy makers and ag experts, proved invaluable.

“It was a great experience. I can’t say enough.”


Next session approaches

Dolch says the ISA is now accepting applications for the 2022-23 PLF class.

This collaborative, one-year experience is for young soybean farmers from Iowa and Missouri who possess a desire to learn more about government and the legislative process, all while improving their core leadership and advocacy skills. The PLF will give participants a deep understanding of the policies, laws and regulations that affect agriculture, the soybean industry and rural America. Weaving travel and social interaction into the program curriculum, participants will become aware of the role policy advocacy and a unified voice play in the legislative process.


Among the program dates for the 2022-23 class:

  • Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 2022, Ankeny: Iowa and Missouri Joint Kickoff
  • Jan. 30-31, 2023, Des Moines: ISA Winter Soy Summit and Legislative Reception
  • March 9-11, 2023, Orlando, Fla.: Commodity Classic
  • July TBS 2023, Washington, D.C.: American Soybean Association Board of Directors meeting and Capitol Hill visits

Those who are interested can learn more about the program and the application/selection process at

Interested participants must fill out the application by July 31, 2022.