From Full-Time Policy to Full-Time Agronomy

Nov 23, 2021

By Barb Baylor Anderson  •  From Fall 2021 American Soybean magazine

North Dakota soybean grower Josh Gackle visits the White House for an announcement on the Market Facilitation Program and tariff relief efforts in May 2019.

Josh Gackle is as comfortable operating a combine as he is sitting in a lawmaker’s office talking policy. The third-generation farmer from Kulm, North Dakota, was a policy staffer for about half of his professional career and today relies on that experience to be an effective ag advocate.

“I always knew I wanted to farm, but it was good to go away and try something else first,” says Gackle, who serves on the American Soybean Association (ASA) and North Dakota Soybean Growers Association (NDSGA) boards. “I thought I wanted to be a teacher after graduating from college, but after one year of teaching, I decided politics might be a better fit for me.”

Gackle spent 15 years in various policymaking roles in both Washington, D.C., and in St. Paul, Minnesota. He started in the Nation’s capital as a staff assistant for a U.S. Senator from Minnesota before moving to serve in that lawmaker’s in-state office. He then worked for the Minnesota state legislature as a staffer on the environment committee and followed that as an environment and ag policy advisor for Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Gackle also worked as a policy advisor for a renewable and wind energy trade association before deciding to return to the farm.

“When my brother made the move back, I joined him because we had the opportunity to pick up some additional acreage,” says Gackle. That was in 2012. Now, together with his brother, father and grandfather, Gackle raises corn, soybeans, wheat and barley in southeast North Dakota.

“Growing up on a farm gave me unique knowledge and background to work on policymaking, and policymaking gave me insight into doing effective advocacy work through ASA and NDSGA,” he says. “I understand the process, and that enhances my ability to interact on issues.”

Gackle highlights the success of the work that ASA and state associations have done together on international trade and farm programs. “Farmers are challenged by weather and markets that are out of our control, so we need a strong safety net,” he says. “Farmers have been effective in maintaining risk management programs like crop insurance and protecting our global markets through trade agreements. Both are critical to our future soybean profitability.”

Josh Gackle spent half of his professional career as a policy staffer on the Hill and  today relies on that experience to be an effective ag advocate as he farms with his family. Pictured from left: Jordan Gackle (brother); Josh Gackle; Dave Gackle (uncle); Fred Gackle (father); Bill Gackle (grandfather); Chris Zenker (cousin); Brendan Zenker (Chris’ son); and Mike Zenker (cousin) on the family farm. 

Since so many decisions are made on the legislative and regulatory fronts that affect profitability, Gackle urges soybean farmers to talk regularly with their legislators and let them know how proposals under discussion might affect their businesses.

“Providing as much information as we can leads to better policies. Legislators appreciate knowing what is happening on our farms,” he says. “There are lots of issues on their plates, and they rely on us to share our expertise. Building and maintaining relationships is important.”

Gackle recommends farmers be deliberate and impactful in regularly communicating through calls, letters and emails. Real-life stories from the farm are critical to decision-making.

“Legislators need to know how policies and regulations might affect your business,” says Gackle. “Contact them as issues are happening. The more they hear from you, the better. Regular contact is effective both from an individual level and as a member of an association. Take advantage of every opportunity to have your voice heard. Policymaking starts at the grassroots.”