Nebraska Deputy Director of Ag provides promotional expertise

Wants to rally all of the state to understand importance of ag

Hilary Maricle did not expect that she would become the Deputy Director for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, but her life changed when she agreed to the position.

On the day of this interview, Hilary had no calls from the farm ranch at Albion, NE. The day before, she had two, telling her about calves that needed to be pulled.

“I thought I’d be at home to help with calving,” Hilary said. On the multi-generational Maricle farm, they raise cattle, sheep, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. “At this time of the year, the guys want to be in the field, so our daughter, who is a junior in high school, and our daughter, who is an eighth grader, are stepping up to help check cows. With about 70 percent done, there are still heifers and older cows who will calve. It’s a transition as our twin sons, 19, are now in college and that used to be their job. But my husband Brian and his father are managing it and my dad comes over if they get in a bind. We love it, and I wouldn’t want to raise family anywhere else.”

Hilary and NDA Director Sherry Vinton worked together on multiple projects through the years. When Sherry called and said, “We need to be a team — are you willing to be my deputy in the Department of Ag? I said yes.”

In accepting the job, Hilary said, “We look at things differently, but we really complement each other. While Sherry has a ranching and accounting background, I have focused on education and promotion, so I offer the ag literacy dimension. It’s fun to bounce ideas off each other, as our core values are the same. We talked and figured out how we can make this work with my family.”

Hilary knew this was a great opportunity. “I have a service mindset and have served as a county commissioner. Running for the elected world of politics always intrigued me, but I’ve found that I may have more impact in this agency appointed space. There is an opportunity for long-term change and more consistency. It wasn’t a foreign concept when she called, as I’d thought maybe I should look eventually at the NDA. I just didn’t think it would be until after all my kids graduated from high school. Timing sometimes is perfect, and we don’t even know it. It’s all worked out.”

She said “For both of us, this is our life work. We have the same passion to grow agriculture in Nebraska. It is a big blessing for us as our state’s appointment style allows us to be in these positions.”   

The diversity of ag excites Hilary, “I get to serve everyone, from those with cattle to sheep. We have very different commodity groups which are very important to the state. I get to work with specialty crops and core commodity groups. Plus we look to the future with value-added ag and the impact of what we do all over the world. The breadth and depth of ag in Nebraska is amazing. No two days will ever be the same. I strongly believe in Sherry as our director and what she wants to do to serve our state. And it’s also what Gov. Jim Pillen expects to grow, promote and defend Nebraska ag. I’m thrilled to be a part of that vision; it just can’t get any better than that.”

“I’m excited to rally all of Nebraska to better understand that Nebraska is agriculture. It’s important to see how we partner with cities, or small towns to make people there understand this is their food. I grew up understanding farm-to-fork as my parents ran a grocery store. How do we help someone in those towns surrounded by corn fields know that what they are looking at isn’t all sweet corn? When driving by, it all looks the same but only maybe 20 acres will be for humans while the rest goes into ethanol or cattle feed.”

Hilary said people aren’t doing anything wrong. She said there is a need to identify and collaborate with partners to provide those pieces of ag literacy. There are many groups doing ag promotion and ag literacy that overlap. We need to coordinate to get the messages out to the right audiences. ‘I’m really excited to be a part of that puzzle.”

Identifying where food comes from is important. “We want the people with ag businesses to build Nebraska’s book of business all over the world. Providing them with tools to figure out how to export their products can ease the process.”

Hilary admits, “I get a little passionate. I know how important it is for all these levels of ag to work together. It’s all about educating, coordinating, and building the structure.”

In her mind, the most difficult issue facing agriculture is its unpredictability. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. Those in ag don’t have a consistent paycheck. They deal with climate challenges, with extremes from floods to drought. You don’t know when prices for commodities will go up or down.

Regulations can be unpredictable. On the national level, work has begun on the next Farm Bill and hopefully the farmers and ranchers are aware of the regulations that could come through that legislation, which could impact the way they operate. The Farm Bill could provide new opportunities, too.

“I’m excited to be on the Nebraska ag leadership team to grow and defend Nebraska agriculture, and to know that the leadership of our state has the same passion,” Hilary said. “It makes the job really fun and is a fantastic opportunity to improve and serve the community and industry that I hold so dear to my heart. Farming and food, that’s what it’s all about.”

The Maricle family on their farm.  Maricle family | Courtesy photo