18 Jan Peter Bachmann: Building an Ag Policy Career in Washington, D.C.
Originally, Peter Bachmann wanted to be a large animal veterinarian but, within just a week on campus, he realized that wasn’t where he wanted his career to go! But he always knew he wanted to be involved in agriculture and by never letting what he thought was his dream get in the way of his destination, he has become a force for agriculture in Washington, D.C..
Taking a variety of internships that ranged from dairy science to sow farms, Peter took a different direction when he accepted an internship with CropLife America, as Barb Glenn’s intern. In an internship whiplash, he moved from large animal agriculture to the regulatory pesticide industry and he was hooked.
After graduation, he found a job with the National Association of Conservation Districts, and knew that it was his first big step into agriculture in Washington, D.C., by way of conservation. Once he had his feet under him in that role, he took a position at the USA Rice Federation as the Manager of Government Affairs.
Then President Trump won the election in 2016 and, despite being politically unattached, he took an opportunity as a policy advisor with the USDA. After a year that changed again and he became the Senior Advisor to the secretary, a critical part of the infrastructure, Peter was relied on and a trusted advisor with his insights into “the swamp,” or the navigation of the Hill and Congress.
After remaining in that position for a number of years, USA Rice reached out to see if he would be interested in the Vice President of International Trade Policy. At that point in his career, he was at a position in the USDA that didn’t have much room left for growth and was feeling burnt out. USA Rice provided an opportunity to jump back “into the weeds” and have long term opportunities.
Why say yes?
“One of my big pet peeves is people that let their dreams get in the way of their destination,” says Peter. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Not being afraid to keep your metaphorical career door open allowed USA Rice to approach Peter for a position with them when retirement opened up a pivotal role.
Peter stresses that one of the most important parts about working in Washington, D.C., is that you have to network, build relationships and then nurture those relationships. Washington, D.C., specifically the ag sector, is very small and you never know when those relationships will come in handy. Everyone in agriculture knows someone, whether its from 4-H, FFA, AGR fraternity, AGA, or any other state or local organization.
Building that network of friends, you start to meet the older generations in their industries as well through events, conferences, and, even, weddings. Peter says to “be patient, make friends, and say yes to all opportunities. Even if you want to go home and relax … you have to say yes initially to get out and meet those folks.”
Mistakes to Avoid
Commuting from Annapolis in his first year of being in Washington, D.C., Peter recognizes in hindsight that this was actually detrimental. Instead of getting the opportunity to go to work dinners or go to other small networking events, he had an hour long commute. Moving into the city, he realized what a game changer it was and how much easier it was to make friend groups and create relationships with others in the industry.
Networking can get in the way of other tasks, jobs, submission of comments and documents, and work with members. While it’s important to have those relationships built to be called upon in crucial moments, it’s also important to manage your time.
Look at the long-run, not the short-run. You have to know what work is pressing and when it needs to be done.
- Understand it’s long hours.
Taking your laptop home to work on the weekends or late at night is normal when you are in Washington, D.C.
- Manage your day-to-day by utilizing calendars.
“That’s one of the hard parts about growing up and getting out of college is managing your own calendar,” says Peter with a laugh. Using one calendar that is synced to your phone and computer is a quick and efficient way to not double book or get overwhelmed.
At the base level, networking can feel superficial and, to be frank, Peter says you have to push past that and find a personal connection with the people you meet. Find something that you have in common, whether it’s a person you know, a program you are or were a part of, or an event you attended. Post 2020, there will be easy small talk conversations about the pandemic quarantines and what people did or maybe missed out on.
At the end of the day, it’s about building goodwill. A part of that is Peter’s recommendation to take advice from everyone – albeit with a grain of rice! Don’t be afraid to show up in person and fight for your spot in Washington, D.C., if that is truly what you want to do!
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