HANCOCK COUNTY — A county farmer has received a federal appointment to lead a state agency within the US Department of Agriculture for the second time.
The Biden administration tapped Julia Wickard as the new state executive director of the USDA Indiana Farm Service Agency, a post she also held from 2009 to 2017. She brings an extensive personal and professional background in agriculture to the agency, which offers programs to agricultural producers across the state.
“It really feels like home,” Wickard said of returning to the helm of the state Farm Service Agency. “I truly love the US Department of Agriculture, and the Farm Service Agency in particular.”
As executive director, she’s charged with overseeing the delivery of Farm Service Agency programs to agricultural producers in Indiana, including commodity, conservation, credit and disaster assistance programs.
The US Congress put forth such programs which are signed into law by the president as a part of the nation’s farm bill every several years.
“I think the unique piece about the USDA
programs are they are voluntary in nature, and farmers and ranchers all across the country can decide whether they want to participate in those programs, and it’s exciting to be able to work in that voluntary effort,” Wickard said.
There are 75 Farm Service Agency offices throughout Indiana serving all 92 of its counties. While Wickard is based in the agency’s state office in Indianapolis, she spends a lot of her time traveling to those service centers across the state.
She recalled learning she was a potential candidate for the role before her appointment and thinks her personal involvement in agriculture and support she gets from agricultural organizations across the state helped push her to the top of the list.
Wickard, her husband and two children own and operate Wickard Livestock in eastern Hancock County where they raise registered Angus cattle and Boer goats.
That experience will allow her to instill common sense into any policy decisions she’d have the authority to make, she said.
“If it makes sense practically on the farm, it’s something we probably should do, but if it truly can’t be implemented on the farm, then maybe we need to revisit it or ask for other input about how we might implement a program, ” Wickard said.
Her past work experience in agriculture extends beyond the USDA as well. In 2017 she became government affairs director and agricultural liaison for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Just a few months after that, she was appointed assistant commissioner of IDEM’s Office of Program Support while also maintaining her agricultural liaison role.
“I’ve just always been a part of the agricultural fabric of the state,” Wickard said. “I’m very honored, and blessed and truly humbled to be asked to return to do the work of ‘The People’s Department,’ which is what the US Department of Agriculture is known for,” she added, referring to a phrase President Abraham Lincoln used to describe the USDA.
Wickard has also served as executive vice president of the Indiana Beef Cattle Association and chief operating and marketing officer as well as environmental and natural resources director of the Indiana Farm Bureau. She was environmental and natural resources director in the Indiana Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture, has worked for the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and served two members of Congress.
She is a graduate of AgrIInstitute’s Indiana Agricultural Leadership Program and currently chairs the board of directors. Additionally, Wickard is a recipient of the Sagamore of the Wabash and in 2019 was recognized as a Purdue University Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication Distinguished Alumni.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release that Farm Service Agency leaders provide a significant service.
“Individuals selected to serve as FSA state executive directors are incredible public servants who have a proven track record when it comes to their commitment to advance their states and communities,” Vilsack said. “Each will serve on the frontlines, carrying out USDA’s mission at the state level and ensuring the voice of each and every USDA customer is heard. We are fortunate to have each of these talented individuals at this critical time for farmers and producers and rural communities across America.”
Marcus Graham, Farm Service Agency deputy administrator for field operations, also noted the importance of the role.
“The state executive director is a pivotal leadership position for the agency and for the agricultural producers we serve,” Graham said. “These leaders, appointed by the Biden-Harris Administration, bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to their respective states. We are happy to have them on board and wish them much success.”