By Tim Alexander
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Jean Payne, a pioneer in the fertilizer and chemical industry, left her longtime post as president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) on March 31. In a letter announcing her retirement, the first woman to lead the association said she is fulfilling a personal goal to join her husband, former Illinois Farm Bureau senior official Rae Payne, in retirement.
“As I step away after 23 years with IFCA – 17 as your president – there are many things to say and I wish I could hug each of you,” Payne said. “To all the IFCA members, board members, industry colleagues and government friends – it was my privilege to know and work with all of you and my life is better for it. Rae and I plan to spend time at our lake home in the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin, see our families more and cherish life together. I am grateful to God and to all of you for the blessings in my life. Thank you for trusting me to work for you, and for the friendship and laughter along the way. IFCA will always be in my heart.”
Payne pointed to the litany of accomplishments achieved under her leadership as evidence of the legacy she will leave behind. Those legislative and policy achievements include changes in federal and state statutes and regulations to ensure ag inputs receive an hours-of-service exemption for transportation, along with measures to curtail ammonia theft and eliminate the cost for license plates on fertilizer wagons and floaters.
In addition, IFCA worked to address water quality issues through their Keep it for the Crop program and passage of legislation to create the Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council. Under Payne’s leadership, IFCA created an alliance with the Asmark Institute that resulted in state of the art ammonia, applicator and grain safety training facilities existing on the same property as the IFCA offices.
“For every tangible IFCA accomplishment (there are many more), there were 10 times as many bad things we kept from happening because of our advocacy and reputation as a proactive, stewardship focused organization,” Payne noted.
While Payne’s retirement caught many in the agricultural community by surprise, her retirement had been something the IFCA Board of Directors had been anticipating since she shared her intentions as far back as a year ago. This is according to IFCA Chairman Tadgh Davis, who praised Payne for her 17 years of leadership.
“She has always had the forward-thinking vision to know what the organization and its members should be working on proactively. Whether it has been the 4R program, or working with agencies on regulatory issues and numerous safety and stewardship initiatives, she has always kept the IFCA a step ahead. Jean has led by example, with professionalism and with class,” Davis said.
The IFCA board voted on Feb. 3 to make Kevin “KJ” Johnson interim president of the association for 12 months, beginning April 1. Johnson told Farm World that while he will have his work cut out for him in continuing Payne’s work and sustaining IFCA achievements, he is eager to take on the challenges.
“Jean has been nothing but great to me,” said Johnson, currently the IFCA director of government and industry relations. “Lately, she has shown me how to efficiently run an association in hard times (due to COVID-19 restrictions).”
Johnson had worked as public relations director for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson until the former Republican 15th Congressional District representative announced his retirement in 2012. Payne contacted KJ soon after Johnson’s retirement to offer him a job representing the IFCA in Springfield and beyond, beginning in 2013.
“We’ve had a good working relationship ever since my days with Congressman Johnson, and I felt like Jean is a trusted ally,” Johnson said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time, but I’m up to the challenge. There are big challenges ahead at retail with crop protection and fertilizers. I am going to do my best to keep this ship sailing straight ahead and we’ll cross that bridge about removing the interim tag when we get there.”