Rural Route Opinion Column: Jim Holte
It took a moment for it to sink it when I was asked to host U.S. Secretary Sonny Perdue on my farm. It didn’t take long for me to accept this once-in-a-lifetime request.
As we learned more of the Secretary’s visit, we learned that he would make multiple stops during his five-state RV tour. His initiative was called the ‘Back to Our Roots’ tour and the goal was to gather input on the 2018 Farm Bill and learn how USDA can increase rural prosperity.
The RV tour stopped in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana with multiple stops in Wisconsin.
On August 3, the Secretary had a full day. He opened the Wisconsin State Fair with Governor Scott Walker, held a farm bill listening session at Wisconsin State Fair Park with farmers and (now former) Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel and took a tour of Hunger Task Force Farm, which administers USDA commodity programs and services area food pantries and food banks. In the evening, he visited the Management Offices for Blain’s Farm and Fleet where he met with store managers from across the country and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
The next day kicked off with a Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Listening Session with elected officials, broadband industry leaders, Farm Bureau members, students and farmers at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau followed by a lunch at my farm in Elk Mound before traveling to Minnesota for more stops.
Many Farm Bureau members attended his Wisconsin visits. I was honored that many of our members were invited to these events because of their various connections around the state.
My farm was the Secretary’s final visit in Wisconsin. More than 40 farmers and agriculturists of all ages shared a meal, visited and asked the Secretary questions. Senator Ron Johnson, Congressman Sean Duffy and representatives from commodity groups also attended.
After the Secretary’s RV arrived on my farm and a quick photo by my grain bins we sat for a brief introduction and prayer before we headed for our lunch.
On the way to the lunch line Sonny commented on my IH 656 gas tractor sitting in the shed. I couldn’t help but smile when he recalled the hours he spent driving an IH 656 on his father’s farm. It was apparent right away that his roots run deep in agriculture.
I found Sonny and his wife, Mary, to be very personable and easy to talk with. It felt like I was like talking to a farmer neighbor.
There’s something to admire about a man who takes time to gather input from others before making decisions that impact them.
The questions varied during the visit, were frank, and represented the talk on the countryside. The group discussed Wisconsin’s overall agricultural economy, dairy, trade, farm succession planning, immigration and rural broadband. Overall, the ask was for more certainty for the agricultural community.
I was impressed by Sonny’s directness. He did not avoid the tough questions and was interested in listening to the policy concerns directly from the folks in attendance. It was clear that the people in the room felt comfortable to voice their concerns freely.
At the end of the visit I felt as though I was waving goodbye to a new friend.
A man who knows his tractors and thanks God and the people who grew his food before he eats is someone I can appreciate. What an honor it was to host the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. It’s a visit that won’t be forgotten.
Jim Holte was elected president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation in 2012. He was elected to the WFBF Board of Directors in 1995. He represents District 9 which consists of the Barron, Chippewa, Dunn, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer and St. Croix county Farm Bureaus as well as the Superior Shores County Farm Bureau (made up of Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties). Jim was elected to the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors in January of 2015 as a representative of the Midwest region. Jim grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa on 460 acres of land south of Elk Mound. He also raises beef steers. He and his wife, Gayle, have two children and five grandchildren.