Interview with Nick Levendofsky, National Farmers Union and Kansas Farmer Union USA
By Ivana Radic
Nick Levendovsky (28) from Kansas, representing the National Farmers Union (link) and the Kansas Farmers union at the 26th International leadership workshop for rural youth, in Herrsching, Germany is telling about agriculture reality in his country and his own role in the Farmers union.
YPARD: What is your organization mostly dealing with?
Nick: Both organizations represent family farmers and ranchers. On the national level we have about 200.000 members, and on the state level we have around 8.000 members, and we truly represent them, in a fact that we set policy, in a sense in which it protects them, and helps taking care of them. We also represent farmers and ranchers on the state level on legislative issues and in Washington DC as well.
YPARD: What is your position in these organizations?
Nick: My position with the Kansas Farmers Union, besides being a member, is working as a special projects coordinator, which means that I do a number of different things, but primarily, when we get grants for programs or workshops I help on implementation, I really serve as an individual that puts the projects to work, makes sure that the public is informed about that, and reports back to the grant funder.
*note: In Kansas a small scale farmer is someone having 50 acres or less (20 hectares), majority of farms is around 200 acres (80 hectares)
YPARD: Can you give a short insight in a specific project that you are dealing with?
Nick: We did some work with returning military veterans, coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan, who wanted to move to rural areas of Kansas and possibly wanted to start farming, on either large or small scale. We held two workshops and two tours to give them an idea on what other people are doing in the state of Kansas, to give those ideas on where to find funding for their farm, how to access land, all of the things that a beginner farmer would need to know. We have been doing a lot of work with beginning farmers. We started a beginning farmers’ coalition. In this context a beginning farmer can be of any age: someone right out of college, someone who is looking for a career change, or someone in retirement, who wants to supplement their income.
YPARD: What is the organization’s strategy towards young people?
Nick: I am 28, and I am probably one of the youngest members of the organization. This is definitely the older group, but we are doing everything we can now to bring the young people. In this way we are trying to sustain our future! We are finding out the wants and needs, the desires of our members, to figure out what they really need from our organization, and we have to adapt. Our population and our membership are growing older and the “American farmer” is growing older: the average age of a farmer in America is 57 years. So we need to think about the next generation of farmers and ranchers that is going to be producing the food and they need the organization to represent them, and we want to be that organization.
The big thing that we are doing now is trying to get a lot of attention focused on the beginning farmer group, and we got a new logo for the organization, because the branding is very important. New logo has a sweeping wave, with blue stars, it is very clean and simple, so it looks modern and new and we are hoping that by reviving that we can gain some attention. And also by our policies. We have very progressive policies, when it comes to social issues, climate change, organic agriculture, conservation; so we are hoping that this will gain the attention of new people, which will want to join.
YPARD: How do you describe the current context of agriculture in Kansas?
Nick: Primarily we grow wheat, Kansas is known as the nation’s bread basket. I guess you could also say the bread basket of the world. We produce more wheat then anything. Wheat and cattle are our primary products. You can also get into other crops, such as corn, and sorghum, then soy beans, and on our family farm we also grow alfa alfa, which we use as hay to feed our cattle through the winter time. I think this will continue in the future, I think cattle and wheat will continue to be primary staples of our economy. I have a feeling that corn will take a down turn, because of the climate change issue, the droughts that we are having. We also need to conserve the water, and no longer plant the crop that is high user of water. We need to be thinking about other crops that don’t use as much water.
YPARD: Could you say something about your own farm?
Nick: We raise cattle. During the winter time we feed them, and in the summer time they are all on pasture. We have corn, that this year burned up from the drought, we just harvested wheat few weeks ago, we have some soy beans, and if we don’t get rain that is going to be a problem. We will have a little bit of sorghum, and alfa alfa hay.
In a second interview, Nick gives a great insight in his up to date learning from the seminar. Read: "We need to work together".