Ailts to retire from Farm Service Agency
WORTHINGTON -- When Laura Ailts was hired for her first "real job" nearly 34 years ago, it was with the Agricultural Stabilization Conservation Services -- better known as the ASCS office. She stayed with the agency as it transformed its name to the Consolidated Farm Service Agency, and ultimately to the Farm Service Agency.
In reality, she's seen the agency's name change as many times as her crop-growing clientele has moved from one generation to the next -- three.
On Friday, Ailts will work her last day at the Nobles County FSA office, though it will likely be one filled with reminiscing and rejoicing. An open house is planned from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for Ailts at the office, located at the corner of North McMillan and Stower Drive, Worthington.
Ailts has accepted an early retirement option from the FSA and, at age 54, doesn't plan to slow down just yet.
She already has a couple of part-time job options lined up and is looking forward to spending more time on the golf course.
Still, it may be a slower pace than she's accustomed to.
Raised on a dairy and hog farm between Adrian and Lismore -- the oldest of four kids and the only daughter -- milking cows had been Ailts' daily chore until she left the farm behind for the Twin Cities after high school.
A job opening at the ASCS office in Worthington brought her back to southwest Minnesota at age 20, when she was hired as a program technician. Her first day on the job was Jan. 10, 1978.
In nearly 34 years, Ailts has seen a lot of change in the agency that delivers federal farm programs to local crop and livestock producers.
"A lot of things have changed over the years, but things that don't change are the farmers," she said. More than 15 of the families she has worked with over the years are now sending in their third generation farmer to work with her on farm programs.
"Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of young farmers anymore," she said. "The average age is somewhere between 45 and 60."
Some of those older farmers may still remember the days when Ailts and her fellow technicians used planimeters and measured land with chains and links.
These days, computerized GIS technology makes taking land measurements quick and easy -- and just as precise.
"Even back then we were pretty accurate," Ailts said with a grin. "Some manual things are still OK."
Other technological advancements during her tenure included the transformation from manual typewriters to computer keyboards.
She also said so long to the 10-key adding machine and welcomed the change from their once two-phone office to an office with a phone at every desk.
As the technology changed, so too did the programs.
Among the most notable for Ailts were the one-time offerings like the 0-92 program that compensated farmers for disking under their corn crop due to flood damage back in 1993; PIK (payment-in-kind) certificates; and the Grain Reserve Program, which paid farmers to store grain. They were all one-time options she said producers will probably never see again.
There are the successful programs too, like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), established more than 25 years ago. Ailts was working in the FSA office when the program was launched.
In recent years, Ailts spent most of her time working with producers on payment eligibility and explaining the rules and regulations of the DCP and ACRE programs.
"We're a unique office," she said. "Anyone can pick up the slack, and that's a credit to Ron (McCarvel, FSA director for Nobles County)."
People like McCarvel and her coworkers are what will make retirement a little bittersweet for Ailts. She likens all of them to being her second family over the past three and a half decades.
"I want to thank all the farmers, my present co-workers and my former co-workers," she said. "It's because of them that this job has turned into a career."
Ailts and her husband, Larry, have two children; son Craig and his wife reside in Rochester, while daughter Julie is a teacher at Prairie Elementary in Worthington.