A highlight at the recent Grassroots Summit held by the Iowa Corn Growers Association was the presentation of a special award: the Iowa Corn Walter Goeppinger Lifetime Achievement Award. ICGA has been giving this honor to one of its members for the past seven years in recognition of outstanding service and commitment to the advancement of the corn industry. This year ICGA honored Varel Bailey, a farmer from Anita in southwest Iowa. The Grassroots Summit is ICGA’s annual policy meeting, held in late August each year in Des Moines.
Bailey was one of the most frequent farmers to testify before Congress during the 1980s and early 1990s on farm programs and ag trade issues. He is known to his peers as a strategic thinker with a wealth of knowledge and understanding concerning ag policy, and has the ability to explain the complex, long-term effects of various governmental policy and actions on agriculture production.
Bailey was a leader and spokesman for both the Iowa and the National Corn Growers associations during the 1980s, when farmers experienced some of the most turbulent and challenging financial times in agriculture. He was elected ICGA president in 1979 and NCGA president in 1984.
Varel Bailey and wife Jackie were named Iowa Master Farmers by Wallaces Farmer in 1993.
Following are the remarks of Craig Floss, CEO of ICGA, as he presented ICGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Varel Bailey at the 2017 Iowa Corn Annual Grassroots Summit Aug. 26 at Altoona.
ICGA head’s award presentation to Bailey
Varel Bailey of Anita, Iowa, is an Iowa State University graduate and was an artillery officer serving in Germany, who has farmed since then with his wife, Jackie, and son Scot. Varel was elected to the ICGA board in the early 1970s to represent southwest Iowa. The fact that he was from the same county as then-chairman of the Iowa House Ag Committee, Wendell Pellett, and was the past president and voting delegate of the Cass County Farm Bureau, made Varel a key to the passage of legislation to allow a corn checkoff in the state.
Varel’s organizing skills and his ability to identify and logically explain ag issues built a solid base of support for the ICGA and a checkoff in his district. He was quickly elected to the ICGA executive committee, and in December 1979 was elected ICGA president. In January 1980, two significant events for agriculture occurred. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker announced that since Congress was not addressing inflation, he was raising the cost of money, i.e. interest rates. Second, President Jimmy Carter imposed the grain embargo against the USSR in response to its invasion of Afghanistan. As a result, interest rates rose and agriculture commodity prices fell quickly, and most farms became unprofitable.
Varel quickly distinguished himself and the Corn Growers Association, in both Iowa and Washington, D.C., as an articulate and reasonable leader. He led an NCGA team that met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland within days of the embargo to detail the impact of such an action.
Varel continued to be a key player in the development of national farm policy. Although there were improvements to the 1981 Farm Bill, they were reactionary policies for the most part, trying to buffer economic conditions using past mechanisms and policies. That led Varel and other ag leaders to develop the Iowa Farm Bill study team in 1982 to develop new approaches for the 1985 Farm Bill.
During that time, Varel was elected president of the National Corn Growers Association in 1984. As an "out-of-the-box thinker," Varel and his fellow Iowans developed new concepts and mechanisms to buffer the wild changes being experienced. At this same time, Varel and another Iowa Corn leader, Daryl McLaren, were instrumental in getting funding to develop the Food and Ag Policy Research Institute, or FAPRI, to provide computer modeling research support, or studies to determine impacts for various policy approaches or options.
As you would imagine, Varel spent considerable time in Des Moines and D.C., away from his farming operation to develop and implement such actions that allowed U.S. agriculture to regain strength and profitability. There are many other meetings with congressional, cabinet and administrative officials that had significant outcomes. However, let me turn to a few reflections of his peers.
Although maybe not one of Varel's most important tasks, but perhaps most memorable, is his role at the NCGA annual meeting in Des Moines when U.S. President Ronald Reagan addressed the organization. The NCGA president, William Mullins, was to meet President Reagan at the door of Vet's Auditorium, and Varel as program chair, was to be the emcee. Unfortunately, Reagan’s motorcade was delayed for nearly 15 minutes and Varel had to stall and entertain 10,000 attendees until President Reagan arrived — not something anyone would want or could do easily. But in typical Varel Bailey fashion, he performed quite admirably according to his fellow board members.
Two other observations from fellow board members and Iowa ag leaders need to be mentioned. One of the most often repeated comments about Varel is that he was and still is always a team player. Although he would sometimes challenge others with out-of-the-box ideas, he was always a consensus builder, respectful of other organizational policy, opinions and approaches. He has always provided sound, thoughtful counsel to younger leaders and is a great source for facts and numbers and historical events that have benefited other leaders.
The final observation by his peers, to which I, too, can attest, is that Varel still is an active contributor to ag policy discussions. To this day, when Varel attends an ag presentation and they ask for questions, you can be assured one of the first hands to go up will be Varel Bailey's. His questions will be very thoughtful, penetrating and respectful, although potentially difficult and perhaps sensitive. At such events, that sets the tone for questions to follow, to ensure they are meaningful, relevant and information-seeking questions.