After the passing of Bill Northey, a former USDA Undersecretary and current CEO of Iowa Association of Agribusiness, tributes poured in from his many friends in agriculture. One of those is Indiana’s Don Villwock, who said the 64-year-old Iowa farm boy had “changed the world.”
Villwock says Northey made an impact on both personal and professional levels.
“He was just such a commonsense leader who could hold conversations with ag leaders from all around the world and more importantly, what he liked the most was visiting with farmers all around the world,” he told HAT. “He was just much beloved and had a lot of common sense and really could bring some people and good honest discussions together to try to find better solutions to many of these problems that face us in agriculture.”
And Villwock says he was the best farmer-policy wonk he ever knew.
“He understood the economics of the challenges of foreign policy, but just as importantly he understood the politics of why things would or wouldn’t happen or what needed to happen so something could move forward,” Villwock explained. “Although his heritage and his appointment was by a Republican, about all who dealt with Bill Northey would say he was non-partisan or bipartisan. His party was agriculture and that was most important to him.”
Bill Northey also made an impact on the people he met, one at a time.
“He just made everyone feel like you were the most important person in the room, and he would work a room, and everybody would just light up. He had that ability to just really engage with folks. You would get a note from him out of the blue saying, ‘I saw something and thought you might be interested,’ or in our case ‘I see Indiana is doing that and congratulations, that’s a good program.’ As busy as he was and as much as he had on his plate, Bill Northey always had time to visit and to counsel, and in my case mentor, which I truly appreciated.”
Northey was past president and chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, was Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture from 2007 to 2018, and served at USDA from 2018 to 2021. Villwock is past president of Indiana Farm Bureau.