Honorable mentions: Bob Worth’s presidential highlights

Just days after planting his 54th soybean crop in May 2024, outgoing Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) President Bob Worth sat down for an exit interview in his farm shop in Lake Benton. After two years as president, Worth was in a reflective mood.

“Being president has been exciting and an honor,” he said. “I like that word – ‘honor’ – because it really is. All these things that I got to do as president, it’s been an honor for me.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Within a month of being elected MSGA president in July 2022, Worth hosted MSGA’s 60th anniversary celebration at Farmfest, where Gov. Tim Walz presented a plaque proclaiming Sept. 24, 2022, would be “Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Day” in the state.

Bob Worth: It was just a special day. It was so much fun to see a lot of the past presidents that came to this event, and the governor made a big deal out of that day. (Gov. Walz) has a very good humorous side, because we really did laugh with him.

It was just a really fun day to celebrate 60 years. We’re the oldest state affiliation in the American Soybean Association. And we’re just going to keep getting stronger and stronger as the years go on.

As part of MSGA’s 60th anniversary, Gov. Walz made a special proclamation honoring MSGA.

In September 2022 and 2023, Worth and his fellow MSGA officers traveled to the nation’s capital on a state-led Hill Visit.

BW: I always thought it was so important that just the officer team would get to go to D.C. and learn to lobby as a group of four. That was always my dream for them to go to Washington, D.C., and do the lobbying effort because that is our job on MSGA. We got to meet a lot of people, a lot of ambassadors. We got to go to a lot of different countries’ (embassies) to learn about them, and they also got to learn about us, what we do in agriculture in the state of Minnesota.

And the side note was that we got to go see the Capitol. That’s something I had never done until just last year. We took a great tour from Rep. (Brad) Finstad to get that done.

Visiting the United Kingdom (Embassy) was very interesting because we educated them. That was so important because our officers got to talk about what we do for sustainability, what we do for water quality, what we do for all these issues that they had. They had no idea what we were doing. They had the assumption that we didn’t do anything for conservation.

We also got to visit the St. Lawrence Seaway Commission. We thought it was just going to be another meeting. It was an hour and a half meeting. It was so educational. That is why we really got excited about getting the Port of Duluth active again. It’s always been there. It was very active quite a few years ago. Now we want to get it active again so we can export our products to the U.K.

Throughout his presidency, Worth shared how the 1980s farm crisis affected his mental health. He became a national spokesperson for farmer mental health in interviews with both rural and non-ag media.

BW: Nobody knew that I had gone through (depression). And when I told my story about having mental health issues, they were surprised. They didn’t have a clue. And they ran my story a lot and I did talk a lot about mental health. Farmers didn’t talk about mental health back in the ’80s. Nobody’s really started talking about it until just now. And there’s nothing wrong with talking about it.

You need to talk about it to get it out. I thought if my story will help save somebody’s life, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just spill my guts. I’m not ashamed; I’ve got to help. I’m OK now, and it’s something that can be fixed. Anybody who wants to talk about it, I will talk about it. I just think it’s so important.

Being a mental health spokesperson has opened up a lot of different doors for me to speak to a whole bunch of different people. And they all seem to understand. I just want to say that it can be fixed. You shouldn’t keep it to yourself because it doesn’t do any good to keep to yourself. Talk about it.

During Thanksgiving 2022, Worth and his family were featured in a NewsNation documentary, “Harvest.”

BW: There were six farmers. And we talked about the ‘80s, how tough it was in agriculture. And when they came out here to film, I had no idea what we were getting into. I had no idea how they got ahold of my name. I mean, it’s something that I didn’t ask for. They contacted me to see if I’d be interested. It turned out to be that the whole family was involved, and I don’t think my wife was extremely happy when I told her that she was going to be part of it, but she did a fantastic job. We got to sit down and talk for about two and a half hours.

They just talked about farming. Then I got to tell my story again about the depression and all this stuff. Then they interviewed my wife, Gail, the next day. I never told her anything that I said, and she said the exact same thing.

The documentary was extremely good. It was something I won’t forget.

On the eve of Farmfest 2023, Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Worth’s farm alongside MSGA Directors Joel Schreurs and Brian Fruechte and Executive Director Joe Smentek.

BW: Hosting Sen. Klobuchar was truly an honor. Jon (Bob’s son) and I got to show her our farm, our soybean crop, our equipment and explain to her, right from a farmer, what agriculture is all about.

As Director Brian Fruechte (right) looks on, Bob Worth (left) shows Sen. Amy Klobuchar how the drought affected his 2023 crop.

She’s mentioned it a couple of times when I was sitting in a meeting with her – not just me, a whole bunch of people – that she actually came to our farm, and she really did enjoy it. She was so attentive to what we were saying. Her driver couldn’t get her to leave. They were running quite late to the next visit. But she just didn’t really want to go. She walked to the car, and she turned around and came back and continued talking because she really was engaged with all of us.

A few weeks later, after enrolling in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, Worth hosted Rep. Michelle Fischbach and Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen, along with local and state leaders.

BW: People don’t realize how special it is for Rep. Fischbach to come on the farm and sit and talk. I mean, she’ll just talk just like you and I are talking about issues that are important. We talked about a lot of issues with the Farm Bill, and we talked about issues about how we can get more young people into agriculture. So yes, it was great to have her here. Commissioner (Thom) Petersen was here, Sen. Bill Weber was here. And, of course, we had the mayor of Lake Benton. It was just fun to have a lot of people here to, you know, have a great day. We had a good crowd here for the celebration of the day – and it was hot. And my grandson really enjoyed it.

Following the 2023 harvest, Worth and Smentek joined Gov. Walz on a business trade mission to Australia.

BW: I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a trade mission because I kind of got out of that mode of doing that. But when I was asked by Joe Smentek to go, I thought, well, maybe I will go.

It was going to be a little tougher for an older gentleman. But I went and it was so exciting, so interesting. We got to visit with lots of people from Australia and learn a lot about agriculture in Australia. It’s completely different than Minnesota. They raise a lot of wheat. They have a lot of the same issues that we do in Minnesota. It was one of the things that I actually got to talk to one of the farm organizations over there (about) what their problems are.

Believe it or not, they have exactly the same issues. They have regulations and water quality and all the same things that we do in the U.S. And they also have, which was really surprising, the same problems with mental health in agriculture – suicide is the No. 1 cause of death in agriculture in Australia. I learned a lot. It’s not just Minnesota, not just the United States. Everybody’s having trouble with mental health in agriculture.

Upon his return from Australia, Worth met with the Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, and Howard Buffett.

BW: When we got to listen to the Ukrainian Ambassador and Mr. Buffett, they were talking about needing financing. As a soybean advocacy organization, we don’t have a lot of money. But what we can do is work with them to get our product, our commodities. Because they really need our commodity, also, because they don’t have soybeans.

What their country is going through, any way that we can help their farmers to survive is going to be good for all of us because they’re just like us, except in a different country.

In April 2024, Worth met USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack for the first time during a roundtable panel in Mankato.

BW: Believe it or not, I normally don’t get nervous about a lot of things, but I was nervous about that one. Because I wanted to make sure that I told the correct story. I wanted him to get the message about what Minnesota soybean farmers are going through. So, yeah, I was nervous. I mean, I don’t get nervous, but I did on this day. But I think I spoke from the heart.

Bob Worth sits on a panel with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in April 2024.

I did not have notes. I just talked to him. And I think we hit it off well because we did have a good conversation talking about the Farm Bill and young people getting into agriculture. All these things that are so important for us as Minnesota farmers. To get to sit down with six other people to talk to the Secretary of Agriculture is really, really something special.

During the 2023 and 2024 Commodity Classics, Worth represented Minnesota’s delegation during the American Soybean Association’s resolution process.

BW: Commodity Classic is a big event for Minnesota soybean farmers, for all farmers. The resolution process is our roadmap for what we’re going to do in the next year in Washington, D.C. It’s so important that it starts on your county level, and you bring it to the state board. And then if it’s a national issue, it gets sent on to the national resolution process. It could start right in your county, and it could go all the way to D.C.

And that’s something that’s so important. Also, Classic is the time when you get to sit down and visit with other farmers, other leaders from other states. I mean, this last year we had something that we haven’t done at Commodity Classic for a long, long time when we had the state presidents get together and sit down and just talk.

After the 2024 legislative session wrapped up, Worth reflected on MSGA’s policy wins during his presidency.

BW: I think one of our biggest wins in St. Paul the last couple of years has been the homestead tax credit. I mean, that is huge for us as we all know our taxes are going up through land values – ours is skyrocketing. When we get a bigger homestead credit, that’s going to help all of us in agriculture and help people in town, too, to get a homestead credit. This is something that’s really good.

That’s very, very big. And a lot of our big wins were something that didn’t happen. A lot of seed treatment things were coming down the line, and we got all these things stopped.

A lot of issues with water tiling, we got some of them stopped. It’s what we accomplished to stop things. And I’m going to say the last two years, getting to know state legislators on the Senate and the House side was a highlight.

I got to know Sen. Putnam., Sen. Fritz. and Rep. Paul Anderson. I mean, all these people, I got to know. Sen. Bill Weber – I got to know them personally and can talk to them anytime I want to. And that’s so important when you get that relationship with these people. If they have a question, they can call you and ask you firsthand what you think is the best way to do this. And that’s something that’s so important to have that connection to make, so they feel comfortable calling you.

A strong family unit allowed Worth the opportunity to fulfill his presidential duties.

BW: Our family is so important to all of us. If it wasn’t for my family, I couldn’t do what I did as far as working with MSGA, because Jon and Gail have picked up everything when I had to leave with short notice.

Farming with a family, you sacrifice a lot. Sometimes I miss my grandkids’ birthday or sometimes I miss (other events). I try to make up more when I get back or do it before I leave, but if it wasn’t for a good family, it’s pretty hard to get this done.

During MSGA’s June board meeting, Worth will pass the gavel over to MSGA’s next president.

BW: You know, the officer team that’s going to be leaders of MSGA are so talented. I am quite a bit older, but they have made me feel welcomed.

They just treat me very, very well for being an older gentleman. But do I have confidence that all these people are going to be fantastic? Yes, they are going to be better than I ever was. Because they understand a lot more stuff than I do and they’re knowledgeable. They’re excited to be part of this organization. And same with the board of directors. MSGA is in good hands for many, many years. It’s exciting. And I’m going to say the staff is phenomenal; our staff that works with MSGA is top notch. We get anything and everything we need. It is so important that we have a good working team.

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