By Sean Ellis
BOISE -- The main goal of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation's new director of governmental affairs sounds simple but it is a very important one for farmers.
"Farm Bureau's job is to ensure the continued viability of agriculture in Idaho," said Russ Hendricks, who took over the position in May.
Hendricks, 46, will oversee IFBF's legislative efforts, which include supporting and introducing bills that protect farmers and opposing legislation that would be harmful to agriculture.
The job will require dealing with a wide variety of sometimes complex issues, including taxes, property rights, agriculture and natural resources.
Hendricks has worked as a regional manager and part-time lobbyist for IFBF for the past 13 years and he worked with Utah Farm Bureau for nine years prior to that. He has a degree in agricultural business from Utah State University.
Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead, who has worked with Hendricks on several tax issues during past legislative sessions, believes his understanding of farm as well as state issues makes him a good fit for the job.
"He's very good on tax issues and he has a good understanding of agriculture," Olmstead said. "He's easy to talk to and he makes himself very accessible and returns phone calls quickly, which is important in this industry. Russ will do a good job."
During the 2013 Idaho Legislature, Hendricks shepherded through an IFBF bill that gives farmers and other rural Idahoans a bigger say in the state's ballot initiative process.
The bill requires people who propose ballot initiatives to gather a minimum amount of signatures from rural as well as urban areas. Prior to the change, people gathered most of their signatures in urban areas, Hendricks said.
Now they have to consult rural Idahoans before their initiative makes the ballot.
"Our concern was that it was the urban people in the state who were really deciding whether an issue got on the ballot or not," Hendricks said. "We felt it was important (rural folks) had the opportunity to participate in that process."
The main issue for Idaho agriculture at the moment is ensuring government doesn't grow too big, Hendricks said.
"We love it here in Idaho because we've kept government small and we want to keep it that way," he said. "We don't want to regulate ourselves out of business. We want to keep taxes low and ensure that private property rights are respected and maintained."
One of the main issues Hendricks expects Farm Bureau to be active in during the 2014 legislative session is an effort to compel the federal government to return control of public lands to western states.
"We're very supportive of that," he said. "Clearly, we think the state of Idaho can manage those lands much better than the federal government does. Management by the federal government is basically no management."
Farm Bureau will also keep a wary eye on an effort to require mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.