Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Poppe says she's advocate, educate about agriculture

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:43 AM

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AUSTIN, Minn. — Rep. Jeanne Poppe says she's proud to represent not only her district, but also all of rural, small town Minnesota as chairwoman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee.

"I'm very proud to be from a small, rural community," said Poppe, a DFLer from Austin who represents District 27 B, which covers all of Mower County and one township each in Freeborn and Dodge counties. She was first elected in 2004.

Poppe grew up on a farm outside Houston, where her family raised turkeys in pole sheds until the tornado of 1965. They also raised beef cattle, feeder pigs and crops. The house and part of the property remain in the family.

Poppe treasures the memories of her Houston County childhood, saying small-town people pitch in and take care of each other. It's a different philosophy than in larger communities. You also never grow up, as she's still referred to as one of the Poppe girls when she goes home.

"I truly value the small towns," she said.

But she also values the community she now calls home. Austin is unique with lots of opportunities. Bonding money approved by the Legislature last year will bring at least 120 new jobs to Austin at the Hormel Institute. The Cedar River was recently designated a state water trail and the district is home to several bike trails, a Fortune 500 company and a community college.

Poppe received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in River Falls and she is a counselor at Riverland Community College in Austin.

Seniority determines if a member will be given the chance to chair a committee. Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, the outgoing committee chairman, was first elected the same year she was. There are several DFLers who are long-term members, so not everyone in her class is going to chair a committee in the next legislative session, she said.

"I'm very appreciative of the opportunity to be a chair," Poppe said. Being a committee chair is coveted.

She is the second woman from the DFL party to chair the agriculture policy committee. Mary Ellen Otrembra of Long Prairie was the first.

Being a woman chairing a committee in a traditionally male-dominated field won't be a problem, Poppe said, because she understands agriculture and has been involved in it.

Agriculture is a huge part of the state's economy and particularly southern Minnesota, she said.

She sees her role as an advocate for agriculture who also educates the public about the industry. It's imperative that people who aren't involved in agriculture understand that farmers produce the food they consume, the clothes they wear and the energy they use.

Poppe has served six years on the ag committee. Aside from chairing the Agriculture Policy Committee, she doesn't know what additional committees she will serve on.

She expects plenty of discussion in St. Paul this session. She has already been approached about feedlots and farm business management, regulations and taxes. During the campaign, she heard about education funding and the importance of vibrant communities.

Poppe said an agriculture policy bill could pass this session, but she won't push one if it's not needed.

"I don't think we should ever have bills that are unnecessary," she said.

She and her husband, Bob Vilt, have three adult children.

Her office is on the fourth floor of Senate Office Building