Mary Kay Thatcher: An Advocate for Farmers
“My life is pretty linear,” Thatcher says. “I grew up on a farm. I have double majors in agriculture business and animal science from Iowa State. I worked in agriculture for the Bush administration. I was a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, and now I’m working for one of the world’s largest agricultural chemical and seed suppliers.”
Thatcher’s lifelong ag journey began on her family’s farm in Cumming, Iowa. Today, she’s still tied to the community through her corn, soybean and cow-calf operation in Corydon, but she no longer lives in the area.
“It’s not ideal. I’d like to be able to show you dirt under my fingernails,” Thatcher says. “I’d love to be out there on the weekends working with the cattle, but typically I manage by phone and email. I try to go to the farm five or six times a year, but I don’t get the opportunity to be there every day or every weekend.”
As an absentee farm owner, Thatcher’s biggest challenge is keeping up with everything from her current home in Washington, D.C.
Though it’s difficult, Thatcher is proud to own her farm. “Certainly owning a farm from afar is much better than not owning one at all,” she says, “and I work with great people whom I trust to get the job done.”
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Throughout her childhood, Thatcher remembers her father working on the farm during the evenings and on the weekends when he wasn’t busy working as the executive director of the Iowa Farm Bureau.
“My dad is my role model, without a doubt,” Thatcher says. “He was the one who really enjoyed showing me the farm, helping me learn things and teaching me to work with the cattle. We used to spend a lot of time training the animals to walk, getting them used to baths, grooming them and shearing them.”
Thatcher notes that her dad was always good at giving advice.
“If I was getting ready to go somewhere and was having a tough day or I didn’t want to go, one of his favorite pieces of advice was, ‘Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic,’” she says. “It was pretty good advice that’s stuck with me.”
From the Farm to the Capital
Thatcher inherited her dad’s enthusiasm for farming and believes staying #RootedinAg has made her a better advocate for the profession. “It’s always been very important for me to keep farming,” she says. “Being a farmer gives me added credibility as a lobbyist. I know firsthand what the pain points are. If I wasn’t a farmer, I may be able to sympathize with farmers, but I couldn’t exactly empathize with how they’re feeling.”
For Thatcher, it’s all about farmers and ranchers. One of her strengths is that she’s seen the agriculture industry from many unique viewpoints. “I can put those different viewpoints and experiences together—especially after all these years in Washington—and make a pretty reasonable judgment on issues,” she says.
In her current role at Syngenta, Thatcher keeps informed on key issues affecting farmers and lobbies on their behalf.
Though she enjoys her work in the nation’s capital, Thatcher’s favorite part of her job is working directly with farmers. “The best part of my job is talking with farmers, hearing what’s going on and trying to share information with them that might be helpful,” she says.
Awards and Recognitions
Thatcher has been recognized numerous times for her work in the ag industry. In 2014 when she was working at Farm Bureau, the Missouri office honored her with its Outstanding Service Award.
“That was especially nice because I had worked very closely with Missouri farmers and ranchers for a long time,” she says. “And to be a staff person singled out was really quite nice. It was a big surprise.”
“The best part of my job is meeting with farmers, hearing what’s going on and trying to share information with them that might be helpful.”
An even larger surprise happened in 2018 when the National Association of Farm Broadcasting honored her with the Dix Harper Meritorious Service Award. “I’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with agricultural media,” Thatcher says. “I think they are a farmer’s best friend, and they work to keep farmers informed. I have a great deal of respect for farm broadcasters, so it was especially meaningful for them to say the respect is mutual.”
Though the awards are nice, it’s the farmers who motivate Thatcher to work hard each day. “There’s so much activity in this town that affects farmers’ freedom to operate and their ability to farm profitably,” she says. “Being able to do something that has the potential to improve their lives and their communities is a pretty cool thing.”
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