Recorded history: Pike County director, manager participate in StoryCorps

Koeller, Roderick tell their story from nearly four decades of being involved in Farm Bureau for Library of Congress project.

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Pike-Scott County Farm Bureau Manager Blake Roderick, left, and Pike County Farm Bureau Director Jim Koeller, center, participate in an interview for the Library of Congress’ StoryCorps oral history project. They discussed Farm Bureau history as well as various issues important to farmers, such as water regulations. (Photo courtesy of AFBF)

By Deana Stroisch

Jim Koeller will step down from the board of directors of the Pike County Farm Bureau next month after 39 years of service.

But his experiences will live on.

Koeller, who serves as director of Cincinnati Township, and Blake Roderick, Pike-Scott County Farm Bureau manager, recorded a “conversation between friends” during American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Nashville, Tenn. They discussed Farm Bureau’s changes, challenges and victories during Koeller’s time on the board.

Once edited, the 40-minute recording will be archived in the Library of Congress through StoryCorps, a not-for-profit organization assembling one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. About 75,000 interviews have been archived from more than 150,000 participants across the country since the project began in 2003.

“We’ve had a lot of great things happen while I was at the Farm Bureau, both at the county level and the state level,” Koeller said. “It’s kind of a neat time to reflect. We did accomplish some things. We did make a difference in the daily lives of Pike County farmers. I just wanted to tell that story.”

Koeller, 65, grows corn and soybeans farms with his son, stepbrother and nephew along the Mississippi River. He became a Pike County Farm Bureau member in 1974 and ran for director in 1979.

“My dad always encouraged us to be involved and not let other people make decisions for you. He was on several committees,” he said. “My brother was, too.”

Koeller and Roderick both attended their first Illinois Farm Bureau meeting in December 1981 and have been friends ever since.

The two have helped fight for farmers on a number of major water issues – from wetland determinations to the Great Flood of 1993. Many acres of the county, bordered by the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, are farmed in river bottoms.

Koeller recalled the county Farm Bureau’s involvement in the 1980s and 1990s with wetland issues.

The administration at the time had a “no net loss” stance on wetlands. Pike County farmers received notices that their farmland was classified as wetlands, putting their farm program eligibility in jeopardy. Pike County believed land that had been drained and/or protected before 1985 should be considered previously converted wetland. They pushed for opening of the wetlands delineation manual, developed by federal agencies, for public comment and congressional approval.

It grew to a nationwide effort by farmers and landowners to protect their property rights from government intrusion. With others, Koeller led the charge for inclusion of a wetland resolution in Illinois Farm Bureau policy.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush declared that a wetland isn’t a mud puddle in someone’s backyard, and he ended all wetland delimitations in the United States, Roderick said.

“It was huge at the time,” Roderick recalled. But the issue hasn’t gone away, he said.

Koeller said the “waters of the U.S.” rule proposed under President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t pass the “smell test” and “sounded very similar to the wetlands issue.”

Koeller, a fourth-generation farmer, also discussed other changes in agriculture over the years. Biotechnology, he said, has helped decrease insecticide use while also helping farmers grow a more perfect product for consumers.

He recalled applying insecticide decades ago with a corn planter to control insects – some years as much as 10,000 to 20,000 pounds.

“Today, we use zero,” he said.

After he leaves the board, Koeller plans to continue farming and spend time with his 1-year-old grandson, Nolan. He said he’s grateful for the chance to be a part of the organization for so many years.

“What a great bunch of high-caliber people who show up at Farm Bureau meetings. I’ve got to meet farmers from all over the state and the nation. I feel privileged to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s been fun.”

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