May 21, 2024

Farm Bureau farewell: Guebert reflects on IFB service

Richard Guebert Jr., outgoing president of Illinois Farm Bureau, bid farewell to the members, looked back on the successes of the organization under his presidency and previewed some steps forward in his final President’s Address to the IFB Annual Meeting in Chicago. Guebert was elected in December 2013 after serving as vice president of IFB for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013. Before that, he served as president of Randolph County Farm Bureau.

CHICAGO — With a look back at successes and a look forward at the changing face of the Illinois Farm Bureau membership and a list of thank-yous “a country mile long,” Richard Guebert Jr. gave his last President’s Address and exited stage right to a standing ovation at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago.

“It’s really all of you who gave me the opportunity to serve and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices you’ve all made. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the outgoing president said as he thanked his wife, Nancy, sitting in the front row, and their son, Kyle, who was unable to be at the meeting due to farm commitments.

Guebert reflected on his career in farming and Farm Bureau. He and his family farm near Ellis Grove, where they raise corn, soybeans and wheat.

“When Nancy and I started farming, back in 1980, it was with a $2,000 loan and borrowing my dad’s tractor and combine. It cost about $100 to put out an acre of corn,” Guebert said.

The 15th president of IFB talked about the changes that have taken place on his farm, including a switch to no-till.

“The technology and tools farmers currently have at their fingertips would perplex those who farmed before us. One day, many of us will feel the same way about how our sons and daughters and grandchildren farm. That is just the nature of change. It is the nature of agriculture,” he said.

“It’s the nature of Farm Bureau, too. Just as we worked hard on our farms to care for the land and the business so that we could pass that on to the next generation, so too must Farm Bureau prepare for a new kind of farmer, a new generation of members and a new chapter of leadership.”

One project that will highlight the different farms and farmers and the changing face of farming across Illinois is the upcoming documentary video series, “Fields Apart, Rooted Together.” The series of documentary videos will chronicle farmers in urban, suburban and rural Illinois.

The film series follows the 2022 IFB video documentary, “Sustaining Our Future: A Farm Family Story.” That documentary was released in December 2022 and followed Bureau County conservation farmer Michael Ganschow through a farming year.

The new video series also follows another video series unveiled earlier this year by the Illinois Farm Families Coalition, called “We Are the 96,” a reference to the fact that 96% of Illinois farms are owned by families.

“Illinois Farm Families, this year, launched the ‘We Are the 96′ campaign with a series of videos that tell the story of Illinois farm families. You may have seen some familiar faces in the commercials that ran during the most recent Super Bowl,” Guebert said.

Another project that Guebert highlighted was progress on the Organizational Member Strategy.

“We have identified six strategic challenges that will help frame the Organizational Member Strategy. We have so much diversity in our membership, our staff and our policies, but we also have inconsistencies,” he said.

“I truly see that the Organizational Member Strategy is both a unifying and sustaining force for Farm Bureau. It will craft a structure for how Illinois Farm Bureau can serve members into the future and continue to deliver value.”

He added that the OMS project will host focus groups in 2024 at the Everything Local Conference, Jan. 17-19, and at the IFB Young Leader Conference, Feb. 2-3, both in Springfield.

“I hope every single member will take advantage of the chance to make their voice heard, contribute feedback and help set the roadmap for the future,” he said.

One major success that Guebert recalled was the ability of the state organization to maintain relationships across the political aisle and with lawmakers from both parties, from the state to the federal level.

“Bipartisanship is the key to the relationships Farm Bureau has fostered over time. I’ve said it many times, how important it is for us to work with elected officials from both sides of the aisle,” he said.

He expressed relief at the extension of the 2018 farm bill, but noted that ag groups must continue to press for a new farm bill sooner rather than later.

“The work isn’t done,” he said.

In closing, Guebert reflected on the journey that took him from a county Farm Bureau president to discussing agricultural policy with world leaders.

“It’s still hard for me to fathom that a farmer from southwestern Illinois could be talking to a president of the United States or a farmer across the world,” he said.

With the bright-red banners bearing the annual meeting theme of “Year of the Farmer” behind him, Guebert thanked everyone who helped during his tenure in Farm Bureau state leadership.

“I can’t thank you, the members, enough. The IFB staff, my family, I can’t thank you enough for all your support through these years. Your encouragement, your commitment have made every year feel like the ‘Year of the Farmer,’” he said.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor