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CAST Alum Profile: Bill Graff ’81 is no stranger to farming

Bill Graff, his son, and a steer.

Bill Graff '81 (left) with son Theo and Theo’s steer

Bill Graff ’81 is the state executive director for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), appointed by President Donald Trump’s administration in fall 2017. Having also served in this role under President George W. Bush’s administration, Graff holds the unique distinction of being the only person to serve in this role under two separate administrations.

The FSA is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The FSA provides farm program delivery and farm loans to a wide variety of rural residents, farmers, and ranchers in the United States. The agency also oversees the Conservation Reserve Program. Illinois has over 344,000 program participants.

As state executive director, Graff spends the majority of his time dealing with people, as seven district directors and five chief program directors report to him. He also works directly with farmers and farm organizations. One of his favorite things about his job is when he has the opportunity to help young farmers get a loan and buy their first farm. “Now that is a good day at work,” he said.

In this role, one of Graff’s main goals is to “do the best job for Illinois farmers that I can.” He works hard to follow the instructions straight from Washington, D.C., in an effort to ensure that the FSA is always providing efficient and effective programs.

Graff is no stranger to farming. In fact, it’s safe to say that he got an earlier start than most. Graff purchased his first farm when he was just a freshman in high school. Utilizing his purchase as an FFA project, he raised hogs, a few cows, and grew corn and beans. He put up his first big hog building in 1978.

Attending Illinois State University or any college at all wasn’t initially on Graff’s radar. He had planned to go right into farming after high school, but then he started wondering about the agriculture economy and decided that pursuing an education would be helpful. After two years at Lincoln Land Community College, Graff became a Redbird.

His reasons for choosing Illinois State echo that of many current and former students: “It’s big enough, but not so big.” Graff knew a lot of people going to school here, and also knew that he would get to know everyone in the Department of Agriculture over the course of two years. Illinois State University and the Department of Agriculture both have the reputation of being big enough to provide opportunities, but small enough to provide individual attention.

“It was the exact right choice,” Graff said.

These days, Graff’s activity as a Redbird looks a little different than it did during his days living in Watterson Towers. He and his wife, Judi (Long) ’91, have both been active on the Agriculture Alumni Association Board, where Bill served two terms as president from 2010–2014. Graff has enjoyed his time on the board as a way to stay in touch with Illinois State: “I have gotten to know really, really good people through my experience on the board.” He and his wife also enjoy attending Redbird basketball games.

“Bill has been very generous with his time, giving back to ISU and our students,” said Rob Rhykerd, chair of the Department of Agriculture. “Whether it is guest lecturing in a class or helping students with mock interviews, it seems like Bill is always mentoring a few students.”

Graff’s advice has led more than one Redbird to a job.

“Bill seems to know everyone and is a great resource to help put our students in contact with employers,” said Rhykerd.

Graff encourages anyone thinking about a career in agriculture to check out Illinois State’s Department of Agriculture.

“You can be an Illinois State University graduate, and end up with a career you love. I’m living proof.”

Interested in learning more about the Department of Agriculture? Visit Agriculture.IllinoisState.edu.

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