It came across social media and the agriculture information chain like a lightning bolt, yesterday. Bill Northey, former Iowa Agriculture Secretary and Former USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation passed away at the age of 64.
Northey was a Spirit Lake, Iowa farmer who advocated not only the betterment of our farming practices but for American farmers as a whole. As a farmer, he was an early adopter of the next generation of conservation farming practices, such as cover crops. This led to his efforts to help create the Nutrient Reduction Strategy in Iowa to mitigate the damage agriculture did to the Mississippi River basin. He continually educated farmers on how they could do better for the land and water, without sacrificing the economic viability of their operation, and in many ways, improve it. His efforts led to funding becoming available to help farmers offset the costs of starting this great undertaking.
Northey parlayed that love of Iowa agriculture to Washington, D.C., and the United States Department of Agriculture. For three years, he worked to take the message and practices of Iowa farmers across the country. He tirelessly worked to make a difference for farmers of every size.
Today, tributes are pouring in from across the state and the country. Yesterday, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds ordered flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Northey. Farm broadcasters and government ag leaders have been sharing stories of experiences they had with Northey. Bill was respected by many in Agriculture, because not only was he helping shape the policy, but he was also a farmer himself. He never talked down to farmers or to the media about his policy goals, and he always had a way of garnering support across the industry.
He showed respect to farms and ranches of all shapes and sizes and did what he could to make the system work for them, while also having an ear to the voice of the American consumer and understanding what their concerns were. He did what he could to leave the industry better than how he found it.
You couldn’t find a better person to work with or talk to than Bill Northey. He always found common ground and a way to relate to people. The first time I met him, we talked about the fact that I was from Southwest Minnesota, and he had gone to school at Southwest Minnesota State, so he knew the area I had come from.
I also had the chance to meet with him in Washington and watched him talk to new broadcasters of the NAFB and go out of his way to offer any help he could in helping them understand the work being done at USDA. He wanted to make sure we were able to do our job of communicating policy to the American farmer.
Northey was currently in the role of CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa. They released a statement yesterday, mourning Northey’s passing and sending condolences to the family he left behind.
Very rarely, in this business, do you come across someone who you immediately know is the genuine article. Somebody that is without bluster, and truly loves the job that they do. Bill Northey was that man, and the country has lost a true champion of the American Farmers and Ranchers.