Kristen is the Issues Manager for GROWMARK.  She communicates, educates, and advocates to policymakers and regulators on behalf of GROWMARK and the FS System. She is responsible for the territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.  She also works on certain federal legislation as well.

Jacey: What inspired you to want this type of career?

Kristen: When I was a senior in high school, I attended the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference and met two women who worked for Illinois Farm Bureau educating urban legislators about the importance of agricultural issues.  Up until that point, I did not know that I could combine my passion for agriculture with my interest in politics and government.  I added a Political Science minor when I got to Illinois State the following August and set my sights on a career in Government Relations for an agriculture organization.

Jacey:  What are some of your main job duties?

Kristen:  I research issues and determine the impact on GROWMARK and our member cooperatives.  I then work with legislators or regulatory officials to provide input on these proposals and try to shape the outcome of the process.  I develop position papers and written comments as well as provide legislative updates to various stakeholders.

Jacey:  How easy or difficult is it to promote agriculture agendas to legislatures who don’t come from an agriculture background?

Kristen:  It can be a challenge at times, but I have found that most legislators and their staff want to understand more about the agriculture industry.  They seek out opportunities to visit one of our facilities or a farm in their district and see the impact of a piece of legislation firsthand.  A part of my role is organizing these types of educational opportunities.  In fact, this August is our annual congressional staff tour that we coordinate in conjunction with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association Checkoff Board.  The tour is a great opportunity for staff members of the Illinois delegation to learn more about agriculture issues and have the chance to talk to farmers one-on-one.

Jacey:  What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to pursue a career in agriculture?

Kristen:  One piece of advice I have is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about our industry.  I did not grow up on a farm and my parents do not even work in the agriculture industry, so I had a lot of learning to do. Farmers and agriculturists want to impart their knowledge on the next generation, you just have to listen and now be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know something. Never stop learning either.  One of my favorite parts about my job is learning about different agricultural crops and growing practices.  I grew up surrounded by corn and soybeans, so I enjoy learning about the production of cranberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and even ginseng while traveling throughout my territory.

Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University

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