Alex Reed started farming full-time in 2013, but he already has state and national advocacy experience thanks to the Idaho Grain Producers Association’s mentorship program.
Learning about advocacy and on-farm production simultaneously “is a great opportunity to gain understanding of both sides of the industry,” the 36-year-old former electrical lineman said.
IGPA’s mentorship program, now in its seventh year, teams young producers with industry veterans on an annual advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., and provides other knowledge-building opportunities year-round.
The goal: to develop more industry leaders.
Organizations providing financial support to the mentorships include IGPA, the Idaho Wheat Commission, the National Barley Growers Association and Bayer CropScience.
“There is tremendous value to this program in terms of having people be involved, having them see firsthand how policy is made, and having them interact with policy makers and decision makers in D.C.,” said IGPA communications manager Kellie Kluksdal. With mentors, two people attended National Barley Growers Association meetings and four went to National Association of Wheat Growers meetings.
“There is really no replacement for that kind of experience,” she said.
Participants are encouraged to interact with board members, attend grower association meetings, get involved with policy committees and share on-farm experiences, IGPA executive director Stacey Satterlee said.
“We hope it is a way to introduce them to the organization, be involved, and to see a personal value in this policy work and how it affects the operation back home,” she said. Participants also can network with farmers around the U.S. to learn what on-field practices are working in different locations.
Scott Brown, 63, chairs the Idaho Barley Commission and farms near Soda Springs. He was in his late 30s when he first went to Washington, D.C., to a Wheat Industry Leaders of Tomorrow meeting.
Experienced producers at the time “tried to develop leaders by doing the same thing, but the opportunity wasn’t as plentiful,” he said. “Now the opportunity is greater.”
Young people first getting involved on the policy side can “see the value of speaking up, and being vocal about our lifestyle, our livelihood and our profession,” said Brown, a past president of the IGPA Executive Board.
The state’s grain-industry leaders and organizations “clearly see the value of the mentorship program in developing young leaders,” he said. It is producing IGPA leaders at the county level, for example.
Andy and Terra Baldus of Nezperce went to Washington, D.C., this year with mentors.
“I definitely learned a lot about how legislation is driven,” said Terra Baldus, who manages a community library branch and helps on the farm.
Andy Baldus, 36, in his fourth year farming full-time after working as a mining geologist in Nevada, said the trip was “extremely valuable.
“It kind of opened my eyes to the fact that there is a whole lot more that we do as farmers, and a whole lot more that goes into farming than just farming,” he said.
Baldus, who grows dryland wheat, legumes, bluegrass and at times malting barley, got involved with IGPA locally. At first, he wanted to learn more about best farming practices. He soon learned more was happening.
“It was extremely valuable to me know that stuff was going on,” he said. “I kind of knew, but had no idea how much went into it — local chapters getting together and hashing out details, from chemical registration to shipping and transportation. There is a just a ton of things that happen that most people don’t even realize, and I didn’t realize.”
Reed grows irrigated malting barley, carrot seed, Adzuki beans, Kentucky bluegrass, corn and alfalfa hay near Filer.
He is a Leadership Idaho Agriculture graduate and is involved in the Farm Bureau as Twin Falls County president and as a participant in a program for young farmers and ranchers. He serves on the state Department of Environmental Quality Burn Advisory Committee.
Participating in IGPA provides experience with state and national policy, and access to information about farming, Reed said.
“I still have room for adjustment,” he said. “I am still working on building a firm foundation … It’s great to grow in IGPA and in policy development as my farm grows simultaneously.”
Brown said the mentorship program helps to show young leaders the value of developing relationships with elected officials.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if we don’t speak up for our industry, nobody will,” he said. “We have to tell our story.”