Randy Kron had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into when he ran to become the next president of Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., after Don Villwock retired. As vice president Kron spent a lot of time on the road, and worked with Villwock on key matters. But being in the top spot in an organization is a whole different world than supporting a person in the top spot.
Nevertheless, Kron hit the ground running. “The legislative session was starting, and this was a key session,” says Kron, Evansville. “We hit the ground running, and we haven’t really stopped.”
Here is an exclusive interview with Kron after his first few months in office.
So what has these first few months been like for the organization?
Kron: They’ve been busy to say the least. It seems like a blur of meetings. Many of them were related to achieving our goals in the legislative session. I’ve also spent time with the governor and former and current lt. governors so they could meet me and I could better understand where they’re coming from. I’ve done the same with leaders of many other ag groups in the state.
You told us before the election last fall that one of your big goals would be concentrating on more engagement from Farm Bureau members. How do you assess that so far?
Kron: We reached out and got a lot of member engagement in regards to the legislative session. I’m proud of the legislative team, led by Katrina Hall. I’m also proud of members. It seemed like we always had members in the statehouse. Some counties came here three times with members. It really makes a difference when farmer members talk to legislators. I had an opportunity to tell key legislators that property taxes on farmland had to come down, not just stay flat. We needed a decrease. When they heard the same thing from constituents that vote, it drove the point home.
Did legislators notice that there were lots of Farm Bureau members there?
Kron: Absolutely. There were days when we had 10 counties represented at one time by Farm Bureau members. On one day we had well over 150 members in the statehouse. It truly made a difference.
Members could actually see how important their role was. Many took time to understand the intricacies of property tax so they could explain what we needed to legislators. Member involvement is what pushed us over the top on property tax reform for agriculture.
It seemed to be an extremely successful legislative session for agriculture. Were there any disappointments?
Kron: The biggest disappointment was Governor Pence’s veto of the legislation that basically meant that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management couldn’t impose stricter regulations than what federal law imposes. It was compromise legislation, but we were satisfied with it. It gave the legislature the chance to act before new rules proposed by IDEM would be implemented.
The veto surprised us. Since the session was over, the override procedure was unclear. However, we believe it’s an important issue for farmers. We will watch closely. Expect this issue to be back.
What are your personal goals for your first year as president?
Kron: I made a commitment that if elected, I would visit all 92 county presidents around the state. So far, I’ve made 40 of those visits. I want to see what’s going on in the counties, and learn what their individual challenges are.
What was the first few months like for you personally?
Kron: It’s definitely an adjustment period. I spent about 120 days on the road for Indiana Farm Bureau as vice president. Now it’s a full-time job. I stay in Indianapolis through the week, and commute home to the farm on weekends. My wife, Joyce, and son, Ben, are stepping up and keeping the operation going. I wouldn’t have taken the position if I didn’t think that Ben wasn’t ready to step up and take a bigger role in operating the farm.
What challenges do you see for Indiana Farm Bureau going forward?
Kron: The biggest challenge is engaging members and keeping them involved. We have a strong Young Farmer leadership program, and it continues to be strong. But the age limit in that program is 35.
Is that a good thing- having an age limit?
Kron: Yes. Joyce and I went through the program and did stints leading the organization. We also were active in the Indiana Young Farmers Association when we first started farming. That group kept extending the age limit. Many chapters struggled to bring in new blood, and involve the next generation. I believe there needs to be a time when you move on to another level.
How do you keep people involved after age 35?
Kron: That is our challenge. We don’t have all the answers, but one of my top goals is doing what we can to resolve that issue. When people reach that age, most have active families. With so much to do today, many don’t think they have time to go to meetings and serve like their parents did. We need active Farm Bureau Boards in counties, but for some young farm families, serving on the county board may not be the best answer.
Are others groups facing this challenge?
Kron: Yes. It seems to be part of the culture of the new millennial generation. So far they aren’t seeing the need to serve their communities as much as the generations before them did. It’s a problem many ag groups will need to face.
What are you doing to tackle it so far?
Kron: One thing we’ve done is switch from commodity-based committees at the state Indiana Farm Bureau level to issue-based committees. There are committees that work on various aspects of agriculture. One of our newest is the Energy Policy Committee. They look at alternative sources of energy, and they’re excited. Some members on that committee are actually involved in solar energy, for example. We’re hoping that these committees, addressing current, hot issues, may be a way to get members involved after they leave the Farm Bureau Young Farmer program.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Kron: Yes. It’s clear after this legislative session that agriculture must have a unified voice. Don did a good job of laying the groundwork to work with other state ag groups, and we must continue to do so. We can have our differences, but when we go to the legislature, we must have one voice. Agriculture is a minority anyway, and if we aren’t united in what we ask for, we will be at a real disadvantage.