Jamie Beyer aims to keep MSGA rolling
Jamie Beyer is no stranger to the I-94 route from Wheaton to St. Paul. She has started to count the hours in podcast episodes instead of the nearly-400 mile roundtrip drive she takes while serving on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) board.
“Some series are over 20 hours long, and that typically keeps my mind occupied,” she says.
A Wheaton native and avid lover of science, political and history podcasts, Beyer’s journey to becoming the third female MSGA president in June 2019 started at the University of Minnesota – Morris where she graduated with a degree in philosophy before attending graduate school for public administration at Minnesota State University – Moorhead.
Beyer landed several jobs working at area colleges and for the City of Wheaton, but policy and legislative issues were ultimately where her interest lied.
“With a philosophy degree you’re always analyzing theories and ideas, and I have done that even more so after specializing in public administration,” Beyer says. “I think about how policy has the power to move us forward or backward – and how really bad policy can result in the opposite outcome of what you intend. I’ve spent so much time studying and working in different levels of government, that it is really satisfying to now bring-in an agricultural perspective.”
Beyer and her husband, Rodd, a fellow Wheaton native who grew up in a farming family, raise their three girls – Aspen, 13, Paige, 12, and Josie, 10, – on a 3,500-acre crop farm near their hometown. They currently grow soybeans, corn, sugar beets, alfalfa, and in some years, wheat. The girls also help with the four acres of grapes, but stay consistently busy with their 4-H, sports and deer hunting in the fall.
In 2013, Beyer made a commitment to become more involved in their farming operation – keeping the books, handling payroll, rolling soybean, and driving the grain cart. During the fall of 2015, the couple applied for the American Soybean Association Young Leader program after looking to become involved in agriculture on a deeper level. The program led to Beyer becoming an at-large director on MSGA’s board.
Traverse County was not always represented on the MSGA board due to only having a local corn board. Last year, with Beyer’s leadership, the county organized a local soybean board and merged the two commodity groups.
“The main motivator for us to organize a county chapter was to have a consistent county seat on the MSGA board,” she says. “It had been almost 14 years since we had a representative from our county. Farmers in Traverse County are very passionate about policy issues. When the buffer penalty happened, Traverse County had four farmers testify in front of the legislature.
Beyer says farming is especially unique because of the direct impact policy has on day-to-day operations.
“Everything a farmer does, from sunup to sundown, is touched by government policy,” she says. “Whether it’s the seed you’re planting to the chemicals you’re using to land purchases or tax consequences. All of that is governed by policy.”
Advocating against a specific policy doesn’t make one ‘anti-government,’ Beyer adds.
“When the farming industry has a problem, it can either be solved made worse with a policy decision,” she says. “So often you hear of people with an anti-government sentiment. I try to push folks to recognize all of the ways in which local, state and federal government propels agriculture forward. I appreciate good government.”
Beyer doesn’t merely raise crops, a family and lead an organization that represents more than 27,000 farmers. Off the farm, Beyer also works as an administrator for their local watershed, Bois de Sioux, which is part of the Red River Valley. Within her role, she sees firsthand how government serves the community, including farmers.
The Bois de Sioux spans areas of six counties. One of their responsibilities is maintenance of agricultural drainage ditches.
”Government entities are delineated by boundary lines on a map – but water doesn’t care,” Beyer says. “I love working for a unit of government that helps solve farmers’ problems by crossing county lines to improve agricultural productivity.”
Another benefit of her watershed position is the network and connection to state agencies, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
“I know, through the information I receive from MSGA, what the intent of the legislative action was. At the watershed, I see firsthand how that intent trickles down to our state agencies and how they implement policies and programs,” she says. “Sometimes the intent and policy align, but sometimes it doesn’t – and it is vital to have MSGA there, ensuring that farming interests are protected.”
When Beyer first joined the MSGA board, her peers wasted no time in giving her the opportunity to put her experience and background to the test. In 2017, one year after joining the board, she was elected vice-president under then-MSGA President Michael Petefish.
Serving both years as vice president under Petefish, Beyer says she’s taken note on how he handled certain situations.
“Mike is very scientific. He sorts out an issue without being blinded by frustration or pessimism,” she says. “He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. Mike made me appreciate different types of personalities and to be cognizant of who you are talking to and how to value their time.”
At her first MSGA board meeting, Beyer remembers being greeted and welcomed by so many of the other board members, one being Theresia Gillie.
Gillie joins Beyer on the short list of female MSGA presidents in its 57-year history, but she also stands in a long line of supporters in Beyer’s corner.
“Jamie’s experience and willingness to view policy and legislation from different perspectives makes her so valuable,” Gillie says. “She didn’t shy away from the opportunity to become so involved from the get-go, but instead, embraced it. Now she’s MSGA president, representing soybean farmers all across the state, and I’m excited to see where she takes this organization.”
Beyer says she’s been encouraged by the support she’s received from her fellow directors; it fosters a ‘we’re all in this together’ communal spirit.
“I have so many cheerleaders, it’s very encouraging,” Beyer says. “I get notes and messages from other board members saying, ‘I heard your interview, it sounded great, keep it up’ or just a, ‘Thanks for all you do.’ They recognize that serving as a director is all volunteer, and can be a lot for a person to handle. Getting a quick note is sometimes just the little kick I need to push through the day.”
Going the extra mile
As Beyer looks toward her first legislative session as president, she says 2019 will be a hard one to repeat.
“We accomplished so much this last session,” she says, referencing the tax bill legislation, mental health dollars and funding for the Soy Innovation Campus. “Besides building on last year, MSGA would also like to see a fair resolution when it comes to the buffer law.”
As for what this looks like, she says those priorities are up to MSGA members at the grassroots level.
“We need to find something a majority of our members would support,” she says. “If they want the rule tossed, then that’s it. If they want fair compensation, we’ll go that route.”
Another focus area for Beyer is growing MSGA’s network.
“I myself was not on social media until two years ago. I now know it is the best tool to quickly get information out to farmers – like on the buffer penalty or MFP payments,” she says. “I encourage all Minnesota farmers to get connected to MSGA. It is important to build a strong network ahead of when you need it, so you can activate it quickly.”
Beyer will also make engaging more young farmers a priority during her tenure.
“Many of our loyal MSGA members remember the first historic battles. But now how do we engage their adult children?” Beyer asks. “I’m asking for feedback from young farmers; what do they value and how we can help them? MSGA understands their situation is different today, but we are just as valuable to today’s farm operations as we were for the generation before.”