A global outlook on US ag

Former UN food ambassador to be featured at 2023 grain growers convention

By Trista Crossley
Editor, Wheat Life

On the surface, Kip Tom doesn’t appear to share much in common with the average Washington wheat farmer, but dig a little deeper, and the similarities emerge.

From 2019-2021, Tom served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and chief of the U.S. Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome. He is also managing member of Tom Farms, his family’s multigenerational Indiana corn and soybean farm. The farm has been a top seed supplier to some of the world’s largest seed companies, and Tom has served as a crop production consultant in the U.S. and overseas. He’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the 2023 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention where he’ll be talking about global and domestic policy issues, markets, and farm programs. This year’s annual convention is Nov. 14-16 at the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“We are no different than the farmer with 2,000 acres, it’s just at a different scale,” Tom explained. “We operate under similar conditions, that is, Mother Nature’s in control of a lot of what we do. We use a systems approach to our operation, which I think a lot of farms are moving more to digital platforms, the way they manage their finances, their productivity, their equipment, all their inputs, and everything.”

While Tom Farms may have a global presence now, Tom started much smaller — his parents raised five kids on about 525 acres. He said that grounding in agriculture was critical when it came to making decisions during his time as an ambassador.

“I’ve farmed at all scales, so I can relate to any farmer, because there isn’t anything they do that I haven’t done, probably. That goes from fixing a tile line to an irrigation pipe to fixing a tractor, planter, or irrigating. I’ve done all that,” he said. “It just so happens, I got fortunate to be able to travel this path in life and serve our nation on representing us to the ag and food agencies in Rome, Italy. But I can tell you as soon as I got home, the nice wingtip shoes came off, and the boots went back on.”

Tom is still an active advocate for U.S. agriculture. Over the fall, he spent time in Europe speaking out against the EU’s European Green Deal, which seeks to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system by significantly reducing the use of fertilizer and pesticides, taking land out of production, and making agriculture more sustainable. He said the program is trying to influence American farmers’ markets and trading channels.

“I think that’s what you need to do once you come home from serving in a post, make sure you take what you’ve learned and remain engaged, even at your own expense. You need to be involved. I love the industry, and I love the people,” Tom said.

During his time as ambassador, Tom said he brought a very pragmatic, boots-on-the-ground approach to his posting. Out of the nearly 200 people he worked with at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), he was the only farmer. The FAO’s mission is to create resilience and capacity on ag systems, something Tom feels they’ve failed at doing.

“I spent a lot of time educating, entertaining, and everything else. Every week, I’d have two to three dinners at my residence and have ambassadors from Europe over, ambassadors from across Africa, Middle East, southeast Asia, Latin America over, just trying to give them an idea of what the reality is, and what it takes to grow food,” he said. “I came back having my eyes opened up and understanding how inefficient they (the UN) are, and how they are actually not getting the work done they have been charged to do.”

Despite the challenges, Tom is optimistic about U.S. agriculture’s trade opportunities, especially in light of what the EU is doing with its European Green Deal — he said he wouldn’t be surprised if the EU ends up being a net food importer in the future. He pointed to Africa as being untapped as a trading partner, but believes the U.S. has to stop focusing so much on climate and refocus its energies on trade.

“I look at our international wheat sales and soybean sales, and boy, we are sliding. We need to get our selling shoes on and get back out there and promote U.S. products,” he explained. “The biggest thing I want to push with producers everywhere I go is to encourage their advocacy. I realize we are all busy growing a crop, raising cattle, whatever it may be, but the reality is, we’ve got to make sure the consumer understands what we are doing, because when they don’t understand, someone else gives them the answer, and those answers aren’t usually very accurate.”

To register 2023 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, visit our online registration form. Early bird registration ends Oct. 25.