Building Relationships through Story with Kurt Fuchs, SVP & Government Affairs

Important:

We recorded this prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been working remotely for the past several weeks to be able to share them with you while you have a little more time at home. These uncertain times have altered the way we’re all doing business right now, but that isn’t keep us from doing whatever we can to support our membership and communities. Head to mafc.com/update for resources related to your cooperative and the pandemic. From all of your friends at MAFC, stay healthy and safe. Thank you.

Listen to Kurt's Episode here or find us on your favorite podcast app!
 

Jenny:

Welcome back everyone to the Farm Credit advocate podcast. My name is Jenny Kreisher, director of communications and your host for this episode. In our last episode we spoke with Tom Truitt, president and CEO of our association. We covered everything from industry trends to our mission at Farm Credit and where we left off leads us into our next conversation today with senior vice president of government affairs, Kurt Fuchs. Kurt has been with Farm Credit for over eight years, but has almost 10 years of experience in legislative affairs. He works closely with many of our local producer organizations to support state legislation that works for, not against, our membership and the ag industry as a whole. Outside of work, he is a staple within all of our local community groups, and is always working to find new ways to help our membership. So welcome Kurt and thank you so much for your time today.kurt fuchs svp government affairs midatlantic farm credit

Could you just tell our audience a little bit about yourself and what you do for Farm Credit?

Kurt:

Absolutely. As Jenny said, I serve as senior vice president of government affairs and what that really entails is a lot of relationship building. Relationship building with legislators, centers of influence, state and federal agencies to make sure that we're positioning the association, in addition to our membership, in the best possible way when issues arise at the legislative or regulatory level.

Jenny:

So you've been here for eight years. What did you do before coming to MidAtlantic?

Kurt:

So before I came on board with MidAtlantic, I was with Maryland Farm Bureau serving as assistant director of government affairs. Mostly focusing on state and local issues. I dealt a lot with transportation, wildlife planning and zoning, a little bit of energy issues. And really was an excellent opportunity to work closely with the agricultural community throughout Maryland. Learned a lot about the different crops and commodities and livestock that are produced throughout the state. It gave me a good base of knowledge for when I came on board with MidAtlantic. And that footprint really expanded and the agricultural community, the commodities and all that entails, grew exponentially with our footprint now in Southeast Pennsylvania, Delmarva, Central Maryland, five northern counties of the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia and the three Eastern panhandle counties of West Virginia. So it's a really diverse mix of agriculture.

Jenny:

So going back real quick, you are a Maryland native.

What is your background in ag? What made you get involved with ag policy or interested in it?

Kurt:

I come from a pretty large farm family, extended farm family, on Caroline County, on Maryland's mid shore. My father is an agronomist and when I was growing up, you know, who knows what an agronomist does. Your friends ask you what your father does and the best way I described it was, he's a crop detective. And this detective, they don't have to deal with anything terrible, right. Except, you know, crop failures, et cetera. He would go out into the fields and make recommendations for farmers to use X amount of fertilizer or utilize a pesticide or an herbicide to take care of a pest. And really, he came from a dairy background. He is one of 12 children. I was the youngest grandchild and we all spent a lot of time at the home farm that I eventually started working on in middle school, high school and throughout college. And even after I started working, I was still helping out during hay season. They've since sold the farm here, I think about a year and a half ago now. So I don't get a chance to help out with hay, which I'm extremely torn up about.

I joke, I do. I do miss that experience. Being able to work closely with a family, that was a really integral part of what made that connection for me to agriculture. And as you know, Caroline County is a very ag centric county. It's tremendously important to the economy there. And so that was all around me growing up. And when I started thinking about what I wanted to do as a career, I was very much interested in politics, but I also wanted to be engaged in the ag community in some way. And lo and behold, the opportunity with Maryland Farm Bureau came along and could not have been a better fit.

Jenny:

And then made you take the jump from Maryland Farm Bureau and doing all the amazing work you did for them to Farm Credit.

Kurt:

Well, it was my experience with employees at MidAtlantic that led me to want to work for the association. I interacted quite a bit with Kenny Bounds who is now the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in Delaware, but for a very long time served as the, for lack of a title, the legislative affairs person for MidAtlantic. He was much more than that, but that is the way that I first got to know him. And through LEAD Maryland, I was in the same class as several MidAtlantic Farm Credit loan officers and built tremendous relationships with them. And so when the opportunity came around, when Kenny transitioned into a different role at MidAtlantic, that position opened up and I was at a point in my career with Maryland Farm Bureau that I was ready to venture out and try something new, a new challenge. And you know, I said that Maryland Farm Bureau couldn't have been a better fit, but really I don't think this role with MidAtlantic could have been a better fit either.

Jenny:

What are some things you're seeing in ag legislation right now that we should be aware of?

Kurt:

Well, it's pretty different depending on what state we're talking about. We’re geographically compact, right? The small states here in the MidAtlantic other than Pennsylvania. But each state has its own unique character when it comes to their state legislatures. To kind of give a broader perspective, when people ask me about the role that politics can play for us at the association, our footprint includes: five governors, 10 members of the U S Senate, over 20 members of Congress, over 700 state legislators, and countless locally elected officials. And we don't even get to all the different agencies at the state, local and federal level that can impact the association, but just as important, if not more so for our customers. Some of the things that that color the politics around agriculture in this region is by far weighted towards the Chesapeake Bay.

It informs and influences ag policy throughout our region. And it has an impact nationally as well. A lot of different states and ag groups from across the country look to the Chesapeake Bay watershed region and how the ag community has been impacted by increasing regulation and legislation for ways to, quite frankly, cope. You know, at MidAtlantic, we don't think a sound, healthy environment is mutually exclusive from profitable, thriving agriculture in the region. And one of the roles that I try to play is working with those varied interests to try to find the best fit and the best way to work around and work with some of these initiatives that are being thrust upon the ag community. I would say the Chesapeake Bay is certainly a big factor with the significant amount of animal agriculture in our footprint. That plays a big role as well, whether it's permitting issues or restrictions on location, things like that, we deal with on a pretty regular basis. But we have built relationships at state agencies and regulatory and permitting agencies to make sure that we can be helpful and be a resource to our customers when they're trying to navigate those regulatory and permitting systems.

Jenny:

What are some trends at a macro or national political level that you're seeing?

Kurt:

Well, unfortunately there's been quite a bit at the state level, things have started to mirror Washington DC and national politics. What I mean by that is, this notion that because you disagree, you can't like that person or if you disagree with someone, they're wrong about everything else as well. And there's lots of common ground that can be found throughout the different legislative and regulatory issues that we face. But there's this polarization that seems to be creeping down into the state level like we've seen at the federal level. And that makes it difficult. Agriculture doesn't care if you're a Republican or if you're a Democrat, right? We're looking for people that are supportive of the ag industry, that are supportive of the farm families and the agribusinesses that make it work. And we still have to navigate that level of partisanship. And it makes it makes it pretty tricky. But the key that, myself and other folks that advocate on behalf of agriculture, is to make sure that those people in positions to enact legislation or create regulations that impact our members, that they know we don't care what party you are. We know what party you are. We understand the implications that has. But we want to work for agriculture and we want to do so together for the betterment of the ag community.

Jenny:

2020 is a voting year. What are some things to be keeping an eye on as it relates to producers and different legislative issues that we should be considering?

Kurt:

You mentioned the Farm Bill’s passing in 2018. Would you believe I was at a meeting a month ago and we were already talking about getting ready for the next Farm Bill? I think it's a Testament to the impact that that bill has and to the scope and breadth of it, but it also speaks to the difficulty that faces moving such a piece of legislation now in Washington DC. You know, the presidential politics are unique. We see it playing out on the newscast every evening. You can't avoid it. Right? Even if you wanted to stick your head in the sand and think about happy thoughts that, that is near impossible this day and age. But what  I would say we all in the ag community should be thinking about is what are some of these candidates talking about as it relates to agriculture?

What are they talking about when it relates to the rural communities that we live in throughout the ag community? It doesn't necessarily get a lot of attention, unfortunately. I mean, thank goodness that for better or worse, the Iowa caucuses are the first because otherwise, I doubt there'd be that much attention given early on in these presidential races to agriculture and rural America. And so the more that we ask the questions to these candidates, to the people throughout the country that are representing them during the campaign season, what is their plan for agriculture? What do they expect to do with regard to trade? I mean, the trade issues we've been facing for the past several years have had a significant impact on agriculture. Many of our customers are going through this downturn in their commodities, partly as a result of other market forces.

But certainly the trade issues we faced with China with redoing NAFTA, you know, the USMCA, with some of the other trade deals that we've been trying to work through. They've had an impact. The administration has been supportive and come to the table with additional aid packages for America's farmers. But I think it's safe to say that most farmers, if not all, would prefer a well-run marketplace with equal access to foreign markets where they can sell their products freely and without disparate tariffs or import taxes, et cetera, that weight the scale one way or the other. I think they're kind of ready to get back to business as usual when it comes to open markets.

Jenny:

For those who maybe aren't very active in monitoring political climate or want to be more involved in political issues at a local level, what can our members, or our audience do to get more involved?

Kurt:

That's a great question, Jenny, and we've got a lot of organizations out there that advocate on behalf of agriculture. Most of which I would say we're a part of all of them. Whether it's loan officers that serve on boards or committees, I know we have management positions and folks that engage with these organizations as well. We provide information and speakers for many of them. We sponsor different events that they put on. Organizations like the Farm Bureaus throughout our footprint are a great resource for information and for keeping up on what's going on in legislative halls across the footprint. You have agribusiness associations like the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Penn Ag industries and others that do a lot of the hard work in hashing through some of the legislation that gets proposed. They're on the ground, they're in the committee rooms. Most of the time, we're at the same witness table offering support and testimony to good bills and opposing the bad ones together.

There's groups like the Penn State Council of Farm Organizations, which bring together the wide scope and breadth of nonprofit agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania. I think at last count we were somewhere in the neighborhood of over 60 member organizations of that group. So these are the types of groups to be involved with to make sure that you can keep your finger on the pulse. And by and large, we all work together. I mean, the ag community is too small to work against one another. I'm not going to say that there aren't disagreements, every good family has them. But for the most part, we're communicating directly and making sure that we're all on the same page and we're listening to our respective customers or members to make sure that we're advocating correctly on their behalf.

Jenny:

Do you feel getting involved in those organizations is also the best way to make sure that legislators are hearing them and hearing their stories and their concerns?

Kurt:

Absolutely. More and more of these organizations have easy grassroots tools for them to communicate to their legislators, both at the state and the federal level. And they make it almost too easy to do it. You know, maybe it comes through as a text and you hit a link and you put your name and then your address and then press send and boom. You've sent a comment into your member of Congress. Now that's one way to utilize your voice. But they also have access to talking points and they set up Hill visits, whether in DC or in in their respective state capitals to make sure that producers are face to face with those that have the ability to impact their operations. And the more folks can tell their story how a piece of legislation or regulation will impact them in particular, it holds way more weight than if someone like myself goes in and relays that story. Now it still has impact, but to have that person be a constituent in that person's office and make their case directly, it's powerful and we need to make sure that more people do that. Part of our role is to make sure that we give them the tools that they feel comfortable doing so.

Jenny:

There is a lot going on in the political sphere. We've said that before, not all of it good. Sometimes it's negative and there's always someone who is not happy with the outcome or potential outcome of a certain piece of legislation.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Kurt:

My favorite part of the job is building relationships. I believe most, if not all, of the people that seek elected office or that are in positions of public service, (now there are some that don't fall in this category) but by and large, they want to do good things for the communities that they've chosen to run, to support and to represent. Now, that's not to say there aren't interesting personalities that populate that group. And one of the most rewarding parts of the job is to find a way to navigate in and around some of the more difficult personalities that come from a district or represent an area that represents agriculture. But then we find some way of being successful with them, whether it's getting them to be supportive of a piece of legislation that could do good for ag. Maybe it's to get them to take their name off of a piece of legislation that wants to do harm to agriculture. But that's a rewarding aspect of what I do and really just getting to know the different people that have chosen to represent others. There's good and bad with all of that, but by and large, it's rewarding.

Certainly the most rewarding aspect for me is being able at the end of the day, to say that I was working on behalf of a profession, of a group of people, that had an impact on me growing up. That influenced how I think about the world, how I have grown up, the values that I hold. And that's a good thing. When I'm able to help a customer navigate a difficult permitting situation or if we work with them to get a provision and a piece of legislation that either in or out of it that is beneficial to the ag community, that that's a good thing. And so I'd say being able to, to work towards a goal like agriculture and support for agriculture, that's the most rewarding part.

Jenny:

What do you advocate for in agriculture?

Kurt:

I would say what we want at the end of the day is the opportunity for farm families and agribusiness is to engage in this profession, show a profit at the end of the day, better themselves, better their lot in life through that business, through that enterprise. And to the extent that that means being for or against a piece of legislation. That's what I advocate for, is the profitability of our farm families and agribusinesses.

Resources:

American Farm Bureau Federation 

PennAg Industries

PA State Council of Farm Organizations

Virginia Agribusiness Council

Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.

Tags