05 Oct Career Spotlight: Government Affairs
The Politics of Agriculture
In this career spotlight AgGrad has the good fortune to interview John Stewart, the Manager of Government Affairs for the American Feed Industry Association. Since graduating from North Carolina State University in 2015, his career on Capitol Hill has taken off at a breakneck pace. Today, John takes some time out of his busy schedule to share what he’s learned as a hustler in American politics.
“Most people refer to me as a lobbyist”, John states bluntly. The work of the American Feed Industry Association, AFIA for short, constitutes the entire supply chain of products that make feed for livestock and household pets. The association represents the business, legislative and regulatory interests of the every stakeholder in the animal feed supply chain.
“I’m part teacher, part salesman, and part researcher,” says John. John’s work is fast-paced and full of variety. No two days are ever the same. “Really, lobbying is just sales,” John explains, except that instead of selling a product, a lobbyist is selling ideas, policy, and legislation.” So he spends most of his time developing that sales plan. Once he identifies who his ‘key customers’ are, he works quickly to understand them and meet their needs, so they can help meet his needs in return.
It took John some time to adjust to the pace of life in the nation’s capital. It’s a competitive environment, and he quickly realized that everybody is after something. That’s the nature of the city. When he meets with legislators or political staffers he sometimes only gets ten minutes to decipher what they want and to insert his own agenda items into the exchange.
Truth be told, John loves the action-packed nature of his work. He admits to having a bad case of ‘Potomac Fever’. John first found himself in Washington D.C., rubbing elbows with renowned politicians after taking an internship with the The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). He encourages other young people to take a risk in the city too. He was one of many young people who wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do right out the gate. But you don’t have to have it all figured out to begin. The hardest part is making the decision to take the risk and seeing what comes of it. “Worst case scenario,” John consoles, “you pack your bags, you go to D.C., you’re here for 3 months, then you go back home. It’s better to try than be left wondering.” Maybe you walk away from the experience and say to yourself, “Wow, I didn’t like that.” But at least now you know what you don’t like, and you can chart course from there. John says the most difficult thing he’s had to do up to this point is make the decision to take the risk. And he’s glad he did. For others interested in doing the same, his advice is to hang on tight, because it’s a wild ride.
At one point during John’s time in D.C. as an intern, both the job offer for the position he currently holds and an acceptance to a graduate program landed in his lap at the same time. Unsure what to do, he discussed his dilemma with a mentor who forced him to genuinely evaluate his motivations and career goals. His mentor asked John, “If it’s not a means to an end then why do you want to get a graduate degree? You’ve got a job offer. Is it just because you want another degree? Is it because you don’t know what you want to do? Or, is there something after that degree that you can’t do without it?” In John’s opinion, many people go to graduate school because they don’t know what to do, and they hope that by the end of it maybe they’ll have figured it out. When faced with these hard questions from his mentor John realized the job he was offered was an excellent opportunity make a difference for farmers, ranchers, and producers, and he could always go back to school if the occasion called for it. John points out:
“The things that happen in Washington DC, whether we like it or not, impact us all the way down to the farm level, so making sure we get policy and regulatory issues handled correctly has a drastic impact on food production and farmer income. And that is why I chose to stay in Washington.”
Connect with John Stewart and the American Feed Industry Association:
AFIA Website: http://www.afia.org/
John Stewart on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/john-stewart-76370783/
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