Dennis Tanikuni, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

Dennis Tanikuni, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of governmental affairs since late January 1995, is getting ready for his retirement, slated on the last day of 2018.

Dennis Tanikuni, assistant director of governmental affairs for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, plans to retire Dec. 31 after nearly 24 years with the organization.

He specializes in commodities, fish and wildlife, transportation and national affairs issues, and some business issues outside the taxation realm.

IFBF will cover these duties from within. Energy and Natural Resource Specialist Braden Jensen will be promoted to deputy director of governmental affairs. He will specialize in issues related to commodities and will handle national affairs.

Legislative and Regulatory Counsel DeLon Lee will handle transportation and fish and wildlife issues. Lee is a recent hire to a new position in the organization, which serves more than 80,000 farm families.

A third-generation Idahoan, Tanikuni grew up on an alfalfa seed farm. He graduated in 1970 from Homedale High School and in 1974 from the College of Idaho, with a degree in business and marketing. He went on to complete many accounting credits there and at the University of Idaho.

“For some reason, I always knew that I would advocate for someone,” he said. He worked for two major banks and a health insurer in the Boise area before going to Parma for nearly a decade to work for the Idaho-Oregon Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Idaho apple and cherry commissions, and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee.

“When I applied for the (Farm Bureau) job, for some reason I thought I was going to get it,” the Boise-based Tanikuni said.

At IFBF and the commodity groups he served earlier, he advocated for farmers largely by first remembering what it was like to farm.

“I understand the culture,” Tanikuni said. “I appreciate how hard people work, and how hard it is to make a living on the farm. People have to understand farming is more than dirt and water.”

Farmers, like other business owners, must deal with many issues, from taxation and regulation to labor and transportation. “Everything that affects a business person on Main Street will affect a farmer,” he said. “A lot of the same issues apply.”

How Tanikuni, one of Idaho’s longer-tenured agriculture lobbyists, approached his work depended on the issue at hand, he said.

He consistently enjoyed working with people.

Though there can be disagreements in the agriculture and natural resource policy arena — and at times even within agriculture — “by and large, everyone is well-intentioned,” Tanikuni said.

“The huge majority of our members are absolutely wonderful people, and it has just been a privilege to work with these folks,” he said.

IFBF in the last several years focused on core issues including water, natural resources, taxation and public lands, though priorities can change in a given Idaho Legislature session.

“The phone can ring and your priorities immediately change,” said Tanikuni, whose major issue in his first two years with the organization was worker compensation for agriculture. His responsibility has been making sure money is spent responsibly, whether by government or an organization in which IFBF holds membership.

“I remember those are ag dollars that are being spent,” he said.

Tanikuni also has spent considerable time dealing with issues related to the interface between wildlife and farm and ranch land.

“We understand that wildlife belongs to the state of Idaho, but wildlife resides many times on our members’ private land,” he said. A grazing or foraging elk, for example, can consume two-thirds to three-quarters as much plant material as a cow, he said.

In an unusual move, IFBF in 2017 supported an Idaho Department of Fish and Game license fee increase, one result of which was a big boost in depredation payments. “It was a paradigm shift for Fish and Game,” Tanikuni said.

It was at the state Capitol where he met his wife, Jane. Their retirement plans include volunteering, spending time with family and traveling.

Tanikuni, a National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor, enjoys cooking, photography and reading.

“I’ve got a table full of books that have accumulated over the years and that need to be read,” he said.

At IFBF, Tanikuni “really enjoyed the people,” he said. As for his successors, “I am really confident they will do as well or better than I have.”

field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

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