Q&A: Craig Hill, immediate past president of Iowa Farm Bureau
On a cold winter day in the 1980s, three Iowa Farm Bureau members pulled into Craig Hill’s southern Iowa farm as he was defrosting hog waterers. By the end of their visit, Hill had decided to join the Warren County Farm Bureau.
Through the years, Hill has held numerous leadership positions, including board member and secretary of the Warren County Farm Bureau.
“When I first joined the county board, I wasn't familiar with all the things Farm Bureau had done,” says Hill. “It was very learn-as-you-go.”
At the state level, he served as Iowa Farm Bureau Vice President from 2001 to 2011. More recently, he served as the Iowa Farm Bureau President from 2011 to 2021.
As Hill passes the torch to the new president, Brent Johnson, he looks back on his time with Farm Bureau.
SF: What drove you to pursue a leadership role in the Iowa Farm Bureau?
CH: I survived the eighties, but it was difficult for many farm families. Land prices escalated in 1981, and it was downhill from there. I realized that despite all your good intentions on the farm, you really had less impact on your financial success than the decisions made in Washington D.C. Whether it’s the Farm Bill, regulatory action, trade or market access or interest rates, all those big issues that were happening through the Farm Crisis days are persisting now.
I saw the impact and the hardship on my neighbors and on agriculture in general. In 1989, I decided to run for the Farm Bureau state board of directors. I thought it would give me a greater awareness of what was going on, and maybe have a voice to help where I could. When a family goes through a divorce or a suicide and the family moves away, it is really devastating to watch. It drove me to think there's more to do than just working within the confines of my own fence or my own farm.
SF: What would you say your biggest accomplishment was during your time with the Iowa Farm Bureau?
CH: My No. 1 success was helping to create Revenue Assurance, working it through the process and making it available to farmers nationwide. In 1993, we had a team that studied the Farm Bill and looked for options to help farmers. Revenue Assurance was a concept that came out of that team effort. It provided protection for farmers against the revenue lost by low prices or low yields, or both. I wanted every farmer to know he or she could always farm another year, despite what Mother Nature threw at you. We hired two leading economists to build the product and handed it off to USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. In 1996, Revenue Assurance was written into the Farm Bill, and today is the most popular form of insurance among farmers.
SF: You’ve been the president of the Iowa Farm Bureau for ten years. In that time, is there a particular moment or interaction with a farmer that has really stuck with you?
CH: Thinking about it even now tugs at my heart. When I ran for reelection, I would visit farmers. We would have lunch, or I would ride in the combine with them. There was one lunch where the whole family gathered, and we all prayed together. I don't even know if they ever voted for me, but what was important was meeting farmers where they were—seeing their life and hearing from them. Those farm visits really were motivating, because I knew who I was trying to help and who I was trying to serve. Those were good times.
SF: As the IFB moves forward, where do you see it going?
CH: Iowa Farm Bureau is structured so well that I don’t see much changing. There are 99 counties in Iowa and 100 county Farm Bureaus, because one county has two. We have organized efforts in every county with leaders that take their role seriously. They do their work at the local level. We have a state organization. We have a federal organization, and there's about 2,700 plus counties in the American Farm Bureau. Our members’ voices have been heard so well that if there are concerns or issues, they surface to the top and are dealt with. We set our own policy goals and then we join arms to achieve those goals. When you have that kind of unity and that kind strength locally, you can accomplish quite a bit.
SF: You’ve interacted with a lot of farmers over the years. In your conversations with them, how have you seen the industry change?
CH: There are some very large systemic trends that need to become more efficient and more productive all the time. There's always going be that challenge. Farm size will be larger and probably more specialized than it used to be. In the past, every farm had cows, pigs, a few sheep, grain, and hay. You'll probably see a further specialization to either grain farming or livestock farming by species. I think those trends will continue as well as the trend toward always finding new efficiencies and cost saving measures. That's where the momentum is. I think the family farm will always survive because it takes a team to do this job. It takes a whole family. It takes their investment—their long hours, their determination. I don't think we could ever turn production agriculture over to a company. I believe it's always going to be the family that drives it. Not only because of its proven history, but also because of the elements of character it has - caring for animals, caring for the land, a love of nature, and the ability to face adversity when times are tough. It takes a family to do all that.
SF: If you could speak to farmers, what would you tell them?
CH: Whether it’s your grandfather, father, son, daughter, or spouse, put your arms around your family. It is a family farm. It is a heritage. It is a legacy. You can't take the family from the farm, or the farm from the family. I think it's all wrapped up in one bundle, and sometimes farmers don't give enough appreciation to the family.
Name: Craig Hill
Background: Hill is the outgoing president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, an organization governed by and representing farm and ranch families.