By Joe Bippert

I recently celebrated my eight-month anniversary with the Grain Commission. Time flies while you’re having fun! My family is settled, kids are loving school and our garden is prolific! When hired, I was told I would need to hit the ground running, and lucky for me, I am cross country runner, because a lot has happened in a short period of time. If one were to ask me to describe my experience thus far using only three words, I would respond with: millennials, delicacy and optimism. Since I have been given a few more the three words, let me expound on this:

Millennials

I am often (but not always) classified as a millennial. Despite cringing a bit when I acknowledge my generational category, I have tried to look at much of my work through a millennial’s lens. Farmers are in many ways like millennials. Millennials care about brand – but a brand to a millennial is more than the bottom line received. A common statement I hear in our industry is, “It doesn’t matter what my yield is if my quality isn’t there; without quality, there is no market.” We care about the quality of our brand in Washington, and I’ve tried to take that example and have every PowerPoint, photo, video, document, etc., show the same care toward a brand that our farmers have.

I have implemented millennial communication mediums through the use of social media. If you haven’t already, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to also listen to our Podcast, “Wheat All About It!” On that front, and in keeping with being a brand conscious millennial, I have also tried to post those things we are doing in the moment. Forty-six percent of millennials post original photos or video online that they themselves have created. The majority of our posts are unedited and original footage of our industry.

The last millennial characteristic I see in our industry is purposeful work. Millennials want to feel that their work makes a difference. They want to believe in the product. As I have been out with you on your farms, I see the passion you have for your work. You believe you are making a difference in the world and that has made it easy for me to feel the same about the work of the Commission.

Delicacy

The work we are doing is fragile. Just like one bad day of weather can negate months of great weather, so can one policy change, or even a statement severely disrupt our work. Since joining the Commission, I have seen the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the threats to pull out of existing Free Trade Agreements like NAFTA and KORUS, policy discussions such as Section 232 that would encourage severe retaliation from some of our largest customers and threats to the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program, from which funds help support U.S. Wheat Associates. That’s not including issues we can’t lobby, like nature’s impact on Falling Numbers. And I’m only eight months in!

We brought about a dozen trade teams to Washington this year. Each team had its talking points, but all of them wanted the assurance of a strong commitment to our partnerships. They have appreciated our open dialogue and transparency and this has gone far to maintain solid relationships during delicate times.

Optimism

Even with uncertainty, I have been impressed by the incredible optimism of our industry. My first month found me in Washington D.C. with a group advocating to lawmakers for funding to support quality research in our region. We were told that it would take time and there were other priorities being discussed on the Hill. We continue to remain vigilant on the issue, and it is moving faster than expected. This isn’t an isolated event. At various meetings, I see that even with difficult problems, everyone who comes together truly believes a solution is possible.

The common expression is that taking on a new role is a lot like “drinking from a fire hose.” In the spirit of the optimism that I see in our farmers, I would add that at least the fire hose is helping me get my feet wet. As I have dived into my work these first eight months, I often felt like I was heading straight into a whirlpool, but I’m also a strong swimmer, so I’m finding my place.

My thanks to all who have hosted me at your offices, farms, and homes. I’ve been able to ask a lot of questions which has significantly shortened my learning curve. It is great to be part of an industry that wants me to be successful.