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Faces of Farming

CARLEY ESSER MCLEAN is Professional Staff, U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

CarleyonRFDTVCarley Esser McLean is interviewed by RFD-TV. As Congress continues to draft a new Farm Bill, a former MFA Incorporated intern is in the midst of the action.

Carley Esser McLean, a native of Boonville, Mo., participated in the MFA Ag Experience program in the summer of 2016 and now serves on the professional staff for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. It’s been a busy couple of years for McLean as the committee assists with efforts to draft 2023 Farm Bill legislation, a process that has now extended into 2024.

While working on her degree at the University of Missouri, where she majored in agriculture education and leadership, McLean was the first MFA intern to work in partnership with Missouri Farmers Care, an alliance of the state’s commodity groups and agribusinesses dedicated to promoting the growth of Missouri agriculture. MFA continues to share an intern with the organization each summer.

This past November, McLean was invited to speak on a panel for the U.S. Farm Report at the Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture, where she discussed her insider’s perspective on the farm bill process and its prospects in the year ahead. After her session, McLean spoke with Today’s Farmer about her journey from MFA to D.C.

How did your experience as an MFA intern influence where you are today?
The MFA internship and working with Missouri Farmers Care was such a valuable experience, especially getting to collaborate with all the different Missouri ag groups. In particular, I enjoyed being involved with the first MFC Drive to Feed Kids at the Missouri State Fair. As part of that internship, I also helped put together a Washington D.C. visit for the MFA Incorporated board of directors and was allowed to go on the trip with them. We had a visit with (former Missouri Rep.) Vicky Hartzler while we were there, and I ended up working for her later, handling her ag policy. It was an amazing convergence of opportunities.

Did you envision working in farm policy as your career path?
I had no idea. I still have a picture of me and a couple of the MFA board members with Rep. Hartzler and looking back now, I’m like, “Wow. I would have never dreamed I would work for her.” After my summer with MFA, I took another internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development and then ended up with the U.S. Grains Council before joining Hartzler’s staff. I’ve been with the Senate committee two years. I never expected to be in policy or in D.C. for six years, but I love it, and I’m very grateful to be where I am.

Tell us about what you’re doing now.
As a member of the Senate professional staff, I’ve been working closely with ranking Sen. (John) Boozman
(Arkansas) on the farm bill, pretty much 24/7 for the past couple of years. I’m the policy lead for crop insurance, commodity programs and disaster programs—all the fun stuff. Seriously, those are some of the things that have the most direct impact on producers. My uncle still farms, my grandpa farmed, and my dad was raised on a farm, so agriculture has always been close to my heart. To be able to have a role in policy that is so important to Missouri producers is really special to me.

Here’s a question many of our readers have on their minds: Will we get a farm bill finished in 2024?
Some folks might see the extension as a bummer, but there is still a lot of work going on behind the scenes every day to get the right policy across the finish line. Sen. Boozman feels very strongly that we do need a farm bill—and we need one quickly—but, at the end of the day, we need the right farm bill. The extension gives a little bit more runway to get that policy right. I think we really need to see something by July, otherwise we’re in a similar situation as we are now. I think all four corners (the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committee) have indicated that they’re more than willing to get it done.

What’s your advice to other young people who might be considering an internship at MFA?
I really appreciate the foundation that my MFA internship gave me, and to this day, I’m still very close with the some of the other interns as well as with MFA employees I met during my time there. Mr. (Ernie) Verslues (MFA Incorporated CEO) is still very impactful in my life. My advice is to seize that opportunity, build genuine relationships and be open to where the experience may take you. Don’t be afraid to let good mentors help guide your path, because, for me, their impact has had the most influence on my life and my career.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.


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