The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation in early February announced two major staff changes. Ronnette Vondrak is the new community resources manager, succeeding Barb Lykins, who is retiring after 34 years. Sam Funk is the director of agriculture analytics and research, replacing Dave Miller, IFBF staff economist who retired.
Funk is responsible for serving IFBF’s statewide membership by conducting original research and economic analysis on agricultural issues. Miller devoted more than 20 years to that position.
Vondrak will be responsible for managing IFBF’s charitable contributions, rural economic development projects and scholarships, as well as building relationships to further Iowa Farm Bureau’s history of serving Iowans.
Professional program experience
Before IFBF, Vondrak was alumni relations director at Des Moines University for 14 years, where she established and worked with innovative programs, networking events, and marketing strategies to increase alumni engagement. She has a strong background in charitable fundraising and serves on various boards, including Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Iowa and the Iowa Mediation Service. Vondrak has volunteered with ChildServe, Meals from the Heartland and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
“Ronnette’s professional and personal experience with nonprofit organizations and community volunteerism makes her a wonderful fit for this position,” says Jim Gardner, IFBF’s chief financial officer. “I’m confident Ronnette will continue the strong stewardship Farm Bureau has shown in caring and supporting Iowans of all walks of life.”
IFBF contributes to a variety of causes that give back to Iowans, including the Iowa Food Bank Association, Adaptive Sports Iowa Foundation, Character Counts and many more. The organization also supports Iowa youth through partnerships with Iowa FFA and Iowa 4-H, and provides nearly $500,000 in scholarships each year.
New director of economics
In replacing Miller, Funk is responsible for serving IFBF’s statewide membership by conducting original research and economic analysis on agricultural issues.
“We are excited to have Sam Funk on our staff to provide the leadership and experience in economics, research management and program leadership our members have long relied on,” says Joe Johnson, IFBF executive director. “Sam’s background and experience, along with his knowledge of farming, will help us to continue to serve our members with economic analysis, global trade insight and ag policy knowledge.”
Funk is no stranger to agricultural analysis, having served as chief economist for the United Soybean Board, presenting in front of Congress and at the annual USDA Ag Outlook Forums. As the former economic and natural resources analyst for the Illinois Farm Bureau, Funk is also familiar with working with Farm Bureau members to connect them with government officials and external stakeholders to provide perspectives from the family farm on impacts of proposed legislation and regulations.
Experience in policy issues
Funk also worked as administrator of the Kansas Farm Management Association at Kansas State University, the same university where he earned his doctorate in ag economics. During that time, he provided insights to Congress leading up to the 2008 Farm Bill and collaborated with colleagues to produce Extension publications to inform farmers and stakeholders on issues impacting federal farm policy.
“Challenges facing many farmers and rural communities at this time can be very difficult. It is imperative to provide credible information, data and analyses to help farmers make informed decisions,” Funk says.
Raised on a family farm in Missouri, Funk spent time farming in Kansas where he served on his county Farm Bureau board of directors and chaired a Kansas Farm Bureau livestock advisory committee. Sam and his wife, Karisa, have 10 children ranging in age from 9 months to 19 years old. They are major supporters of 4-H, describing themselves as a “4-H loving family.” The Funks say they are eager to move to the Des Moines area and be a part of the Iowa agriculture scene.