A retirement announcement by a long-time Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) staff member and the decision of another to return to her family’s farm has created new opportunities for current staff.
Bob Boehm, general manager of Great Lakes Ag Labor Services, has announced his plans to retire, effective July 3, after a 29-year career with the Farm Bureau Family of Companies. And Katie Vargas, GLALS's operation manager, announced her return to her family's operation effective May 8.
Sarah Black, who has served as director of MFB’s Public Policy Division, will succeed Boehm as GLALS's interim general manager. And Laurie Swanson, who has served as a field representative for GLALS, will assume Vargas's role as interim operations manager. Dawn Drake, along with continuing as general manager of Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association (MACMA), will assist Black with labor-related meeting coverage and mentoring GLALS field-based staff.
Boehm began his career with the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) in May of 1991 as the Agricultural/Commodity Specialist in the Commodity Division following a nine-year career with the Farm Credit System. In September of 1998, he was promoted as the Manager of the Center for Commodity, Farm and Industry Relations (CCFIR) within the Public Policy and Commodity Division.
Boehm was involved in many projects with members to support Farm Bureau policy priorities over his career, including the Michigan Zero Interest loan program, Project GREEEN, and later, the Alliance for Animal Agriculture.
Boehm was also at the table for the implementation of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), numerous Farm Bills and international trade agreements. He led international study tours to Australia and Ukraine, as well as represented Michigan agriculture at the first and only U.S. Cuba Food and Agribusiness Expo in Havana.
He also worked to support the establishment of the farmer-controlled Farm Produce Insurance Authority and assisting in the formation of the Michigan Wheat Program under P.A. 232.
“Being a part of the Farm Bureau family has given me so many wonderful experiences,” Boehm said. “I remember early on attending meetings to learn about the issues of the day and began working to achieve our policy priorities. I realized right away the instant acceptance and respect received when I introduced myself as representing Farm Bureau. I was walking on the hallowed ground of all those who had gone before me and built that reputation.”
The growing need for agricultural labor led to the formation of GLALS within the Farm Bureau Family of Companies in Jan. 2015. Boehm took on management of GLALS while still providing general management for CCFIR. After three years, he transferred out of the Public Policy and Commodity Division to take on full-time general manager duties for GLALS.
GLALS has continued to grow under Boehm’s leadership and now employs eight full-time staff. GLALS services nearly 60 farms and facilitates employment of over 1,700 workers each year. It is now the largest H-2A Seasonal Guestworker agent filer in the state, with Michigan now ranked seventh nationally in utilization of the visa program.
“My goal has always been to make a positive impact by working collaboratively with our members, staff, commodity and industry partners, state and federal agencies and our land grant university to address the many challenges and opportunities facing our farmers,” Boehm added. “As I look back over my career, I hope I’ve upheld the focus on service to our members and contributed positively to our industry and the history of this great organization.”
Boehm and wife Tana plan to spend more time with family, take some extended trips by water on the Great Lakes and being at the family cabin in the U.P., all without a fixed schedule and generally hope to move at a little slower pace.
Two additional staff changes to note.
Matt Smego has been promoted to Director of the Public Policy and Commodity Division effective May 8, replacing Black as she begins her new role with GLALS.
A 21-year MFB staff member, Smego brings a wealth of experience to his new position, serving as a regional representative in the Thumb Region, as manager of the Young Farmer Department, and then as an MFB Legislative Counsel.
Most recently, he served as the Manager of the Government Relations Department for seven years and was responsible for coordinating, planning and implementing MFB policy at the state level. In Nov. 2019, Smego was promoted to Associate Director of the Public Policy and Commodity Division, providing leadership for all facets of MFB government relations and legislative advocacy efforts at the state and federal level.
In his new role, Smego will provide leadership for all areas within the Public Policy and Commodity Division; including Ag Ecology and Commodity staff.
And Alexandria (Alex) Schnabelrauch has been promoted from Associate Director to Director for the Center for Education and Leadership Development, also effective May 8.
Schnabelrauch has been a catalyst for the growth of youth programming and the FARM Science Lab program and the development of MFB’s relationships with the Agent Charitable Fund as the philanthropic lead, working with the Family of Companies to grow the organization’s corporate responsibility footprint focused on efforts to end hunger.