2012 Sept/Oct Presidents Report

31 08 2012

In this report I should be talking to you about the need for a farm bill to be passed right away, anyone in ag can see that our best chance for the best farm bill we can hope for is now and not later when more cuts to the national budget will surely be coming at us.

And in this light I should be talking about the multi-organizational farm rally to be held in DC on Sept 12 pushing for a farm bill now. However to you all reading this I’m preaching to the choir.

What I really want to visit with you all about is Les Olsen. Les passed on last week and we saw him off on Friday. Les was a dear, dear friend and a mentor.

If you grew up in ag in Kansas, Les had an influence on you whether you knew him personally or not. In his quiet humble manner, usually working in the background, he was extremely influential in the direction ag education evolved here in Kansas. He spent many years in the state education department and served as the state advisor to Kansas FFA.

Huge numbers of Kansans in ag knew Les and I’ll bet most liked him, respected him, and considered him a friend. He was just that kind of a man. Unlike me, he could make things happen and influence change without creating controversy.

Always he conducted himself with dignity. I remember Les from my high school days when he was an ag advisor from another school but when I really became close to him was during our time together in the NYFEA. The National Young Farmers Educational Association was a bunch of grown up FFA’ers.

Les started the Kansas chapter (KYFEA; Kansas Young Farmers Educational Assn.) and my chapter, Onaga, was one of the strongest in the state, mostly as a result of the stewardship of Barb Rezac.

Now the Onaga chapter has evolved into an FFA alumni association as I assume most of the others have too. In 1988 the national organization numbered over 70,000 and is still active in other states to this day. I think the KYFEA was one of Les’s pet projects.

Local chapters would host a state Young Farmer tour each summer and we would often have about 400 in attendance. It was a great learning experience and a great bonding time for us all as was our annual convention. Onaga hosted two summer tours over the years and Kathy and I were the chairmen of one of them in 1986.

(Worthless trivia, it seems many NFYEA’ers ended up migrating to Farmers Union. At one point there were five of us former state presidents of Young Farmers serving on the NFU board together, Kent Peppler, Rocky Mountain FU; Arthur Douglas, Utah FU; Russ Kremer, Missouri FU; Joe Logan, Ohio FU; and myself)

I often reflect on these times and I think it still has a great influence on what I do as KFU president. During my terms with the Kansas Farmers Union I have tried to expand our experiences and focus beyond legislation to include a stronger facet of adult education.

I often bring in speakers to our state convention that might be considered socially inappropriate for our membership but I want to broaden our thought process and give an opportunity for one to think for themselves. I think that is a direct result of Les’s influence on me.

In 1988 both Les and I were selected to serve on the national board of the NYFEA. During this service Les was the person who took me on my very first airplane trip in 88. (I was 33 at the time, man how things have changed, it seems like I’m flying all the time now)

Les showed me how to use satellite parking at the KC airport, how to travel efficiently, how to travel and function in DC, and also how to function in DC politics. Quite a mentor!

It seemed over the years Les and I grew always closer. He asked me to come and speak to his chapter of the Lions club in Holton a few years back, and I was extremely honored when I was invited to join his family at Les and Corrine’s’ 50th wedding anniversary.

A couple of years back the KYFEA held a reunion in Jewel, Kansas. Les wanted to go badly and asked if I would ride over with him. A blizzard was on the horizon and roads were questionable but Les was adamant that we go anyhow. When we met up to head over I wanted to drive (I’m not a good passenger in the best of conditions) but Les insisted. He drove like a madman and I was gripping the armrest and praying to get home safely but the trip turned out uneventful and the reunion was special.

The status of our relationship concerned me early on, as I evolved into my current role in an alternative position in ag and rural Kansas advocacy, that our friendship might wane with me taking a path much different than most FFA’ers in Kansas have done. But that was not the case and it seemed to just strengthen our friendship.

How appropriate that on his memory table they placed the FFA figure of the advisor, the owl, known for it’s wisdom. Not only does this honor Les’ many years as state FFA advisor but I look at it as also honoring him for his wisdom mentoring all of us out here beyond FFA who he has advised in his normal humble way over his many years of service, both on the job, and off. Rest in peace Les, I will miss you. And good job!

Larry Mitchell was recently named the head of the USDA Grain Inspection, Packer and Stockyard Administration. (GIPSA) Larry will do a great job. His Texas farming background has his feet firmly planted in the land, (maybe other stuff too), and he knows agriculture in and out. He started out his tenure in D.C. with the American Agriculture Movement (AAM), and then he was National Farmers Union’s big dog lobbyist, which is when I first met him. During the Clinton Administration he was in the USDA in D.C. Larry’s kind of done it all.

I think Larry’s history in D.C. will make him as effective a GIPSA administrator as one can hope for. He knows where a lot of the skeletons are buried in D.C. and he knows how to groom who to make things happen. He has big shoes to fill replacing J Dudley Butler.

Larry is pushing up-hill against pretty formidable odds but I can’t think of a better person right now to be doing the pushing than Larry. Good luck D.C. Plowboy.

Ever wonder how Farmland Industries evolved into the giant Co-op it became? Wonder what happened to Far-Mar-Co? How is Kansas Farmers Union involved in the roots of Farmland?

Syndee Adams, a K-State senior, has done a summer intern project for the Ogallala Commons and the Kansas Farmers Union. She has spent the summer deep in the bowels of Hale Library on the K-State campus in the Special Collections department scrounging through 106 boxes of documents and photo’s donated to the library by Farmland Industries. She has scanned gobs of stuff that she is compiling into a database that we hope to make available on the KFU website in the future.

On Wednesday, Sept 5 at 4 P.M. at the Manhattan Public Library (2nd floor) Syndee will be offering an open to the public presentation on what she has found out in her research.

There will be fascinating information and lots of really neat photos and history of Kansas agriculture as it evolved since 1917. A teaser: In the first box we found the original minutes of the first meeting when 37 members of Kansas Farmers Union formed the “Kansas Farmers Union Jobbing Association.”




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