On Nov. 4, the Montana Grain Growers Association (MGGA) announced Lola Raska, the association’s executive vice president, would be retiring from her position after 21 years of service to MGGA. She has been serving MGGA as the executive vice president since 2006.
When asked, Raska definitively says she has been involved in agriculture her whole life. Growing up on a generational farm around Plentywood, Mont., she was heavily involved in 4-H before attending Montana State University where she earned a degree in ag science.
While working various industry jobs in and around the Great Falls area, Raska joined local marketing clubs so she could learn how to better market and sell grain products. She had a background in grain trading and merchandising, so her experience and passion led to her to being asked in 1997 to represent District 9 on the board for MGGA.
“One of the efforts of MGGA at the time was to provide our members with more focused and targeted marketing information and education. Since I had a background from the grain trade, I raised my hand to volunteer with that effort. As soon as I did that, the executive at the time leaned in and asked, ‘So, do you want a job?’ And that is kind of how it all started with Montana Grain Growers,” Raska reflected.
That fateful moment was the start to Raska’s dedicated career. She started out working on MGGA’s online marketing education and information program, parts of which are still a valued member benefit today. From there, she quickly began working in policy, a position where she truly found her niche.
Raska has worked tirelessly on the national level to ensure the needs of Montana grain growers were not overshadowed by the priorities of larger crops like corn and soybeans. She has been a part of several Farm Bills, and most recently, conducted work associated with the two CFAPs.
In her time with MGGA, Raska has played an important role in the various Farm Bills that have come up during her tenure. Reflecting on those legislative actions, Raska can pick out specific pieces of policy that, with the support of the MGGA membership, she has had a personal hand in massaging so that those programs could better benefit Montana wheat producers.
“In policy work, we mark time by how many Farm Bills you have been engaged on. I have had the privilege of working on four Farm Bills,” Raska added.
For a small-town Montana girl, it would be easy to get intimidated or overwhelmed by the importance of legislation like the Farm Bill and the notoriety of the high-up policy makers she got to work with over the years, but she always remained humbled and dedicated to her grassroots beginnings.
“I’ve always been so focused on helping and serving farmers and carrying their message that I never really stopped to step back and be starstruck over it,” Raska stated.
Raska will officially step down from her position at the end of the calendar year 2020, meaning she will be a part of at least one more MGGA Annual Convention. With the theme of “managing risk in times of uncertainty,” the 65th Annual MGGA Convention will be entirely virtual this year. During a typical year, somewhere between 800 and 900 people generally attend the convention, so making the decision to hold the entire convention online was a tough one.
This year the convention will consist of four virtual sessions held over two days. On Tuesday, Dec. 1, the first session begins at 8 a.m., with atmospheric scientist, Eric Snodgrass of Nutrien Ag Solutions, discussing ways that producers can manage weather-associated risks. At 1 p.m., grain marketing economist, Ed Usset, Center for Farm Financial Management, and Betsy Jensen, Farm Business Management Instructor, Northland College, will discuss marketing strategies and how to handle markets going forward.
Wednesday, Dec. 2, will begin with the MGGA Resolutions Session starting at 8 a.m. The final session of this year’s unique virtual convention will be a farm business management dissection panel, which will begin at 1 p.m. This panel will consist of an accountant, an attorney, a banker and a Farm Credit Services representative, and they will all discuss business management techniques from their profession’s perspective. Joel Schumacher, MSU Extension economics associate specialist, will moderate the discussion.
This year’s convention will be free and registration links can be found at mgga.org.
There is no doubt that Raska has made quite an impact on the Montana grain community and filling her shoes may be a tall order, but both Raska and MGGA as a whole are pleased to announce Alison Vergeront, originally of Polson, Mont., will be the new MGGA executive vice president. Vergeront will come to MGGA with strong legislative skills having served as agricultural liaison and field representative for U.S. Senator Steve Daines for the past six years.
Raska admits, she doesn’t quite feel done with her position yet, but she is looking forward to passing the torch.
“It has been such a privilege to work for Montana producers. The people I have been able to meet and work with through Montana Grain Growers has just been so valuable and rewarding to me. I could not have asked for a better job to tie all of my experiences together,” Raska concluded.