National farm policy expert Barry Flinchbaugh, a longtime advocate for farmers and a frequent speaker at agricultural events in the Pacific Northwest, died Nov. 2 at the age of 78.
Flinchbaugh was a top adviser to politicians of both major political parties for more than 40 years, including secretaries of agriculture, chairs of the U.S. House and Senate agriculture committees, and numerous senators and state governors, according to a Kansas State University press release.
Flinchbaugh joined the university in 1971 as an agricultural economics professor.
Without Flinchbaugh's presence, farm policy today would be driven by policy makers instead of allowing farmers to make decisions, Allen Featherstone, head of KSU's agricultural economics department, told the Capital Press.
"His view on the farm producer is that they were always rational. ... He was very much a proponent of allowing producers to make the decisions and produce the crops that the market wants, as opposed to what the government would need," Featherstone said.
Flinchbaugh used a "choices and consequences" approach for individuals to think through farm policy, Featherstone said.
"Essentially what he would do was help policy makers, farmers or anybody that would listen to understand that, 'If this is the choice that is made, these are the economics that would follow,'" Featherstone said. "I think he was very good at helping policy makers design farm policy such that it would meet its intended goals, so they would anticipate the farmers' reaction to that policy."
Flinchbaugh was involved to some degree in every U.S. farm bill written since 1968, and served on many national boards, advisory groups and task forces, providing input on domestic food and agricultural policy.
He served as the chairman of the Commission on 21st Century Production Agriculture, which was authorized in the 1996 Federal Activities Inventory Reform, or FAIR, Act, also known as the Freedom to Farm Act.
"He certainly believed in compromise between the right and the left," Featherstone said. "That was one of his stalwart aspects."
Flinchbaugh was a frequent speaker at agricultural events in the Pacific Northwest, including a Washington Association of Wheat Growers workshop in 2017.
"Barry was a knowledgeable, informative, and entertaining individual," said Michelle Hennings, WAWG executive director. "He was an icon to the agricultural industry and we always enjoyed his sense of humor he added during his presentations. We are saddened by the loss of Barry and his expertise and personality will be greatly missed."
"Anybody that knew Barry Flinchbaugh knew that he was one heck of an advocate for all agriculture," said Darren Padget, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates and a Grass Valley, Ore., farmer. "You always knew where you stood with Barry, as he was a straight shooter and a fascinating speaker. ... If he didn't care for what you had to say, well, you knew that right away."
"He called 'em like he saw them regardless of political ideology," said Scott Yates, director of communications for the Washington Grain Commission and a Capital Press reporter for 22 years. "An interview with him was always an adventure because I never knew what sacred cow he was going to kill. In my mind, Flinchbaugh was a true non-partisan whose views were steeped in years of study and observation. And his wit! Oh, my!"
Flinchbaugh was devoted to his students, teaching an agricultural policy class at KSU for 49 years, Featherstone said.
"He helped very many of them on their way, whether that be through successful farming operations or policy maker roles," he said. "Certainly wherever he went, there was always a cadre of his former students that he would interact with. He certainly left a lasting impact of many generations of students."
A KSU press release about Flinchbaugh's death paid tribute to his "no-nonsense style," calling it "both loved and cursed."
"He was known to lay out the facts of an issue whether it was politically correct or not," the release states. "... A farmer in Colby once said about Flinchbaugh: 'I do not agree with a damn thing you said, but the next time you are in town making a speech, I will be here.'"