by Susan O’Neill
Lily Lake—Former Lily Lake resident and third-generation family farmer Leland Strom was recently honored by Northern Illinois University when he was presented with an honorary doctorate degree at the university’s graduate school commencement ceremony earlier this year.
Lisa Freeman, vice president of Research and Graduate Studies at NIU, cited Strom’s broad influence in the agricultural industry, both nationally and internationally, as one of the university’s reasons for recognizing him in this way.
“Mr. Strom currently has national and international responsibility for protecting and managing the assets of our agricultural industry,” she said. “His work has also included consulting worldwide with developing nations in the process of establishing financing and supply strategies for sustainable agricultural systems.”
Strom is currently Chairman and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, which oversees the Farm Credit System, the largest agricultural lender in the United States. With $230 billion in total assets, the FCS is a nationwide network of lending institutions that provides a source of credit and other services to agricultural producers and farmer-owned cooperatives.
He is serving a six-year term as one of three members of the board of the FCA, a position to which he was appointed in 2006 by former President George W. Bush. Strom also serves on the board of directors of the Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation (FCSIC), which is responsible for ensuring the timely payment of principal and interest on obligations issued on behalf of FCS banks.
As a regulator, Strom said he is proud of the fact that because the FCS has built such a strong capital system, it has continued to attract private investors throughout the recent financial crisis, allowing it to continue to provide a reliable source of credit to farmers nationwide.
Through his role on this board, Strom also responds to requests from countries outside of the U.S. regarding advice on lending and credit systems within their agricultural industries. His previous experience has included travel to 15 countries world-wide, conducting agricultural research and analysis and working with the countries’ governments and financial officials regarding the finances of agriculture.
Strom began his farming education in the 1970s at Kishwaukee Junior College, where he studied agricultural business. He intended to go on to attend the University of Illinois to complete his education, but when his father’s health began to decline, Strom decided to stay close to home to help out with the family farm.
He was 20 years old when he began farming, while attending night classes at NIU in business administration. His family’s farm operation grew rapidly and soon became a full-time venture. At its largest point, his operation included about 1,600 acres in corn and soybeans.
During that time, Strom took on leadership roles in a number of agricultural organizations in the area.
He served as a director of the Kane County Farm Bureau Board and president of the Kane County Livestock Feeders Association, as well as several positions with the Illinois Farm Bureau, where he was a member of the State Young Farmer Committee from 1981 to 1985. He received an Outstanding Young Farmer Award for his overall involvement in agriculture.
He was also a member of former Rep. Dennis Hastert’s agricultural advisory committee for the 14th District.
“I became very aware of how both federal and state government policies and laws passed affect the agricultural industry,” he said.
Strom married, and together with his wife, Twyla, raised three children, two boys and a girl. Twyla, a native of Elburn, owned and operated a pre-school there for 15 years. His community involvement included a term as vice president of the local school district, chairman of the family’s church council, a 4-H parent leader, and coach of both boys’ and girls’ sports teams.
During the early 1980s, he was on the board of Northern F/S, a farm service and supply cooperative serving farmers in northern Illinois. He also served on the board of 1st Farm Credit Services, an Illinois institution responsible for $4 billion in loans to farming operations in the northern half of Illinois.
Although Strom’s leadership with the Kane County Farm Bureau predates his experience, current Farm Bureau Executive Director Steve Arnold said he likes to refer to Strom in advising young people starting out in agriculture.
“Through taking advantage of the leadership opportunities within the industry, he is an example of what can be achieved,” Arnold said. “He’s become a great recruitment tool for us.”
When Kane County initiated its Farmland Protection Program in 2001, Strom played a role in the creation of the program, offering his advice and recommendations.
“He spoke very strongly in favor of farmland preservation,” Kane County Farmland Protection Program Director Janice Hill said. “I certainly appreciated his leadership and his insights into the benefits of the program for the county.”
Not only did Strom speak in favor of the program, he was among its earliest applicants, Hill said. His farm was one of the first to be dedicated to permanent agricultural use under the program.
Although he and his wife currently reside in the Washington, D.C. area, their local farm continues to produce corn and soybeans.
Their youngest son, Tyler, a research assistant for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, currently lives in the family home, and their daughter, Amber, after a five-year stint in Wyoming and Colorado as a wildlife research specialist with the Department of Wildlife, recently moved back to the area. The couple’s oldest son, 31-year-old Derek, is a high-energy particle physicist at Cern, Switzerland’s version of Fermilab in Geneva.
“I am deeply honored that NIU has found me worthy of this recognition,” Strom said.
Strom is in good company among other recipients of honorary degrees from NIU, which include U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, historian Arthur Schlesinger, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and astronomer Carl Sagan.