Nebraska county ag official knows farmers' challenges
HASTINGS, Neb. (AP)--When Jill Brown meets with farmers and they talk about the challenges they face in their operations, she can do more than just sympathize.
Brown and her husband, Mark, are farmers and livestock producers themselves, so she knows firsthand what her clients are talking about when they visit her at the Farm Service Agency office.
"I know where they're coming from," Brown said. "I understand."
Brown started work last month as FSA's new Adams County executive director. She replaced Seth Cross, who held the position from July 2007 until he transferred to the Saunders County office in Wahoo in January.
She brings with her more than two decades of experience working for FSA, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency that administers farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster and loan programs.
The agency once was known as the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, or ASCS.
She started out as a field reporter--now known as field assistant--in Hitchcock County, measuring bins and otherwise checking compliance on farms. She then spent 18 years as a program technician with the Hitchcock County office in Trenton.
Meanwhile, Brown and her family have been tending to their own diversified ag operation south of Trenton, which includes raising and feeding cattle and farming about 2,000 dryland acres. Mark also teaches mathematics at Hitchcock County High School.
Brown grew up on a ranch near Mountain View, Wyo., a town in the southwestern corner of the state near the Utah state line.
She met Mark, who was born and raised in the Trenton area, when he moved to Wyoming to teach. They eventually relocated to Ogallala, where Mark taught, and then back to the family farm when Mark's father retired.
The Browns have four children, including two who still are in high school in Trenton. For the time being, at least, she will be commuting on weekends and the family will maintain its primary residence in Hitchcock County.
Her training rotation at five different FSA offices exposed her to the diversity of Nebraska agriculture, she said and also gave her a chance to shadow different county executive directors and learn from their way of interacting with people.
By and large, Brown said, farming operations in her area of southwestern Nebraska are more diversified than are those in the south-central part of the state. Larger tracts of pasture ground are available for grazing there, and more farmers still have cattle, she said.
Wheat and grain sorghum, which typically are raised on a dryland basis, also are found in greater acreage there, she said.
The Browns used to irrigate some of their land using Republican River water, but those days are over, given the competition for water in the Republican basin, she said.
Brown said she knows an FSA director often is seen mainly as an enforcer of rules. That goes with the territory, she said, and following program rules is important for farmers who want to stay out of trouble.
At the same time, Brown said, she believes firmly in the importance of farm programs for national food security and will say so if she ever hears anyone badmouthing federal ag subsidies.
"It's not welfare for farmers," she said. "It's an investment the government makes so we can have cheap food."