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Local politics


Former House rep, farmer takes federal lending reins

Held in high regard on Indiana ag issues


– President Obama has selected Jill Long Thompson, a former congresswoman for northeast Indiana, to lead the Farm Credit Administration.

Thompson, 60, was appointed chairwoman and chief executive officer of the independent federal agency that regulates and examines the Farm Credit System, a network of lenders with nearly $240 billion in assets.

The FCA has about 300 full- and part-time employees and a fiscal-year budget approaching $62 million. It is funded by assessments from the lenders it regulates.

Thompson said Wednesday in a telephone interview that her role is “leading the organization in a particular direction that results in safety and soundness in the Farm Credit System and also to ensure that the Farm Credit System is carrying forth its mission to provide affordable credit to producers across the country.”

Thompson will be paid $165,300 a year, an FCA spokeswoman said after Thompson’s appointment was announced Wednesday.

Obama named Thompson to a four-year term on the FCA’s full-time, three-member board during a Senate recess in 2010, and she later was confirmed by the Senate. Board nominations require Senate approval, but the board’s leader is chosen by the president.

Thompson is in a position “to talk to a lot of people who have influence in lending,” said Kent Yeager, director of public policy for Indiana Farm Bureau. “She understands farm issues and rural issues.”

Thompson grew up on a Whitley County farm near Larwill. She and her husband, Don Thompson, live on a farm in Marshall County.

“I come home every weekend,” she said. “I love agriculture, and I love rural America. I love rural Indiana the most.”

Thompson said she still owns 80 acres of farmland in Whitley County and 40 acres in Noble County. Those farms grow corn and soybeans.

While in Congress in 1989 through 1994, Thompson – a moderate Democrat then known as Jill Long – was a member of the House Agriculture Committee. From 1995 to 2001, she was undersecretary for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Thompson was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2008, the only woman ever nominated by a major party for the state’s highest office. She was the Democratic nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in 1986 and for House seats in 1988 and 2002.

Thompson replaces Leland A. Strom as the head of the FCA. Strom’s term expired in October, although he remains on the board. Strom, who has worked in agriculture finance in Illinois, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006.

The third member of the board is Obama appointee Kenneth Spearman, an Indiana University graduate who has been an accountant in Florida’s citrus industry.

Long started her new job Tuesday. Among her immediate challenges: The failure of Congress to reauthorize the five-year farm bill, which expired Sept. 30, has caused uncertainty among farmers, ranchers and lenders. The legislation affects farm loans, insurance, subsidies and price supports.

“I’ve always been the eternal optimist, and I am optimistic that the Congress will come to an agreement, at least on the major components of farm policy,” Thompson said. “I think we’ll have something by the end of the year and then probably something more comprehensive next year if we don’t something complete and comprehensive by the end of this year.”

Before joining the FCA, Thompson had been chief executive officer for the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, a nonprofit research and policy group.

She formerly taught at IPFW, Manchester, Valparaiso and Indiana universities.

Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree at Valparaiso University and master’s and doctoral degrees in business from Indiana University.