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Serving: IN
Carl Schweikhardt
MAN BEHIND THE SCENES: Carl Schweikhardt devoted more than 30 years to helping farmers and those who work with farmers understand the ins and outs of USDA Farm Service Agency programs.

People behind the scenes at USDA deserve respect

It takes special talent to understand and translate farm program details. Carl Schweikhardt was up to the challenge.

They say there’s a job that’s right for everyone. It’s a matter of knowing it when you find it. Carl Schweikhardt soon realized his place was helping farmers understand complicated farm programs as part of the USDA Farm Service Agency.

Growing up on a small farm in Henry County, Ind., participating in FFA and 4-H, Schweikhardt thought a degree in ag economics at Purdue University might take him outside agriculture. But after trying other things, he quickly learned that he was meant to be in agriculture.

“I started out with FSA in Clinton County, then left for a bit,” he explains. “But it didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to be part of agriculture. That was where my heart was.”

For many, that might mean going back to a family farm. For Schweikhardt, it meant returning to his career with FSA. Don Villwock, Edwardsport, then Indiana FSA executive director, sent him to Delaware County as county director. It was the late 1980s — the early days of Swampbuster, Sodbuster, highly erodible land provisions and the Conservation Reserve Program.

When Rick Kelly, a well-respected FSA employee, retired in 2009, Schweikhardt took his position as head of production adjustment programs in the state office. The production adjustment section deals with farm bill production programs. Today, those are primarily Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage.

Right spot

If you were searching for someone who could interpret difficult, complex programs, often literally put together by committee, with rules that sometimes seem to defy logic, you would look for a person with patience who truly has a passion for agriculture and the people in it. If you’re lucky, you would find a person like Schweikhardt.

“We know farmers would rather produce for markets and not have to depend on government programs,” Schweikhardt says. “But it’s part of agriculture today, and I hope we’ve helped some people.”

If you sometimes think government rules for farm programs don’t make sense, imagine being in Schweikhardt’s shoes. “Many times, a program is announced before we have the rules,” he says. If you can’t always get an answer at your local FSA office, it’s likely because Congress and USDA haven’t even made the rules yet. Change is a constant in Schweikhardt’s job. Rules change, and adjustments must be made. He’s there to sift through the changes and help county staff and farmers understand their options.

“We’re not here to make recommendations,” says Steve Brown, Indiana FSA executive director. “We’re not allowed to make recommendations. Our job is to make sure you have the information you need to make decisions. That’s where Carl comes in. He and his staff are very good at making sure you have the right information once they fully understand it themselves.”

It’s always good to get praise from your boss. Brown will be Schweikhardt’s last boss at FSA. After more than 30 years, Schweikhardt is retiring, leaving another set of shoes to fill.

Brown assures everyone that someone will pick up where Schweikhardt leaves off. It may be a thankless job, but thankfully, there are people like Schweikhardt who feel called to do it well.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

TAGS: USDA Crops
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