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Bruins retires from leadership at Farm Bureau

Dec. 6, 2012 | 0 comments


Bill Bruins, a Waupun dairy farmer, was experiencing his last Wisconsin Farm Bureau annual meeting as president on Sunday and he prepared to turn over the reins of the organization to one of two men who were running to replace him.

(See sidebar on new president.)

"I feel good walking away, handing over the reins, passing on the torch, however you want to look at it," he told Wisconsin State Farmer in an interview.

"We have a lot of really good people running this organization and a great staff."

Bruins, who took over as Farm Bureau state president in 2003, said that it was just time for him to move on to another phase in his life. "I think every leader needs to know his time."

The dairy farmer said he really doesn’t like looking back but said it’s kind of inevitable in this case. "There isn’t one single crowing achievement I can point out as Farm Bureau president, but a series of them that adds up to a great run. We’ve really developed a team approach, a team attitude and it has shown."

Bruins, who farms with his wife Mary and sons Jon and Joel, who have taken over the daily operation of the farm, said he has been focused on wrapping things up at Farm Bureau and will have to learn to find other things to focus his mind on.

"There’s a part of my brain that’s never disengaged and I think I’ll miss not having all of this to focus on."

The Bruins have a big family and the outgoing Farm Bureau president said he and his wife hope to "re-establish some family time."

In addition to the two sons who farm with them, the Bruins have four other children and 20 grandchildren from 1 to 17 years of age. "I brag about them where ever I go and I look forward to going to a lot of their activities."

Those grandchildren are also the reason that Bruins has taken on a new role as a member of the Waupun School Board. He’s in his third year on the board and will now begin serving his first year as president.

"We all know that education and schools face a whole ton of challenges, but I want to take them on for my grandchildren."

Bruins believes that agriculture in Wisconsin "is in a really good place" but he’s concerned about farmers’ relationship with consumers. "Consumers are illiterate when it comes to agricultural production."

Farmers will need to continue to work on legislation, regulation and education.

In his final address to his organization’s members Sunday, Bruins said that he considers it a blessing that he’s been able to lead "a family made up of thousands of hard-working volunteers across our beautiful state."

Those families define Farm Bureau’s culture and drive its vision – "To lead a dynamic and growing agriculture" he added.

Bruins sounded as if he were talking about himself when he said his members are the kind of people who measure the stature of a person by the outreach he has in the community around him — "where his reward is not measured in dollars received but in the satisfaction of knowing he has made a positive difference in the world around him."

Bruins thanked the board of directors he has worked with over his tenure as president. "They have become like family to me. They have been both supportive and directive."

During his tenure as president the board hired Roger Cliff as the Chief Administrative officer, moving him from his former position as the organization’s top lobbyist.

Bruins said that under Cliff’s direction the staff has been very effective in growing its programs and extending the reach of Farm Bureau.

As state president, Bruins has had the opportunity to travel many times to the nation’s capital. This fall he went to Washington to attend a rally intended to carry the Farm Bill across the finish line.

"Wisconsin Farm Bureau has been helping craft a bill that costs less, with streamlined conservation programs and expanded crop insurance opportunities. The proposed bill includes major dairy policy reform that gets government out of the way and puts farmers in control of their own destiny."

Based on the bipartisan support that the dairy market stabilization component of this reform package has received, Bruins said he remains hopeful it will be included when the final version of the next Farm Bill is ultimately passed.

He said he was disappointed that political disagreement over the food stamp program held up the bill. "For once, those of us who grow the food were basically united on what we needed in a new farm bill, only to be derailed by free lunch!"

On a positive note, Bruins said the bilateral trade agreements that were enacted with South Korea, Columbia and Panama were a very good development and looking forward, it appears the United States is going to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia.

Bruins said discussions also seem to be intensifying with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement which would give U.S. farmers significantly greater access to the markets of places like Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama will have an impact on Wisconsin agriculture at an estimated $63 million dollars.

"Under the leadership of Secretary Ben Brancel at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, I believe Wisconsin will surpass that number.

"In closing, I couldn’t be more proud to look out at my family of farmers, volunteers and advocates. We look at what we do as more than a job, it’s a vocation," Bruins said. "We know that whatever happens in society, government or the halls of higher education, we know that our primary role is to produce food just as our ancestors did."

Cliff to retire in 2013

Also during the 2012 annual meeting Roger Cliff announced he would retire in late 2013.

The 40-year employee of Farm Bureau announced his decision during the business session of Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s 93rd Annual Meeting in Wisconsin Dells on Monday (Dec. 3).

Cliff has worked with eight governors and hundreds of legislators over four decades to help shape agricultural policy in Wisconsin.

"It has been a privilege to work for great people to advance one of the most important segments of Wisconsin’s economy, agriculture," Cliff said.

"I had a great run as a lobbyist for Farm Bureau for 30 years prior to serving the last decade as the organization’s chief executive," he added. "The time is right and I feel good about leaving behind a strong and modern organization."

Cliff said the timing of his decision was part of a transition plan that he developed with the board of directors three years ago.

"In 2013 my priority will be to ensure a smooth transition for our organization’s new president and my successor," he said.

Cliff began his career with Wisconsin Farm Bureau in 1973 as a lobbyist. In 1977 he was appointed executive director of the governmental relations division. In 2004 he was appointed the Chief Administrative Officer, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the organization.

Cliff was born in Madison, but considers himself a native of Lancaster where at an early age his family moved their farm. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 1971 with a degree in political science. He received his master’s degree in public administration from the UW-Madison in 1978.

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