Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture shares experiences as a leader


Stacia Drey

The Agriculture Breakfast is an annual event organized by the Ames Chamber of Commerce.

Bill Northey, former Iowa secretary of agriculture and CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, discussed his agricultural experience in Iowa as a leader with a past in both the government, farming and business during the annual Agriculture Breakfast.

During the breakfast, organized by the Ames Chamber of Commerce, Northey said he graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agricultural business. He began his career as district commissioner for the Dickinson County Soil and Water Conservation District. He then served as president of the National Corn Growers Association in the 1990s.

Northey was elected three times as Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and also served as under secretary for Farm Production and Conservation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As of 2022, he works for the Agribusiness Association.

Farmers, businessmen and Iowa State faculty filled the conference center as Northey talked about what agriculture means to Iowans, the history it has in Iowa and how it shapes the state.

“As great as our production is, what it does for the culture of Iowa and the pride, and I would argue humility,[…] is a great thing to build economics, but it’s also a great thing for a culture,” Northey said. “We are very blessed to be from Iowa where agriculture is special and is very appreciated.”

Northey drew on his experience traveling and visiting with other nations about agriculture and talked about what Iowa has to offer on the world trade scene. When meeting with Japanese officials about Iowa’s agriculture through trade missions, he described the way the world views Iowa as the heart of agriculture.

“Iowa does it,” Northey said.

He believes everyone has their eyes on the state when it comes to production.

Northey talked about sustainability and innovation that comes with being in farming right now. He highlighted how many widely used farming practices originate in Iowa. He said this shows how important it is to encourage creativity and engagement with farmers in the state.

Northey said when people disagree with new societal pressures for sustainability and balancing customer demand, he believes they need to talk to their government officials, adding that the voice of farmers is vital for politicians to hear.

“Government works when you participate,” Northey said. “Take every opportunity to be able to talk to folks that are in government. I was one of those that needed a lot of input, many of you were very helpful to me in understanding what we could do in state government and federal government to be better […] 100% of the time [people] need that conversation.”

Northey was questioned about the conflict in Ukraine and how that affects Iowans, as Ukraine is a large corn producer. Northey said he has seen Iowans doing what they can to help Ukrainian producers through seed donations, adding that he has seen the farmers in Ukraine continuing to do as much as they can.

“Creative folks are trying to figure out how to farm around shell holes where bombs have blown up soil,” Northey said.

Overall, Northey was positively received by people attending the breakfast.

“The thing that I appreciated a lot about Bill Northey’s presentation was just the impression he made on the influence of agriculture in Iowa,” said Jason Ross, department chair of the Animal Science Department at Iowa State University.

From Ames community members to farmers from all corners of the state, there were many smiles and applause for the former secretary of agriculture. Many of the people in attendance believed Northey helped farmers and businesses work together.

“He has a really broad view of agriculture– and agriculture is an important part of our business as well as our community’s business, from both employment to companies that depend on agriculture for some part of their trade,” said David Hagen, senior vice president of commercial lending for the First National Bank in Ames.