Krista Swanson is an agricultural economist and research analyst for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Swanson studies economics and policy topics which impact farmers, including traditional farm policy, trade and tax legislation and both proposed policy and passed legislation that would have an impact on farmers.
She analyzes and compiles the information targeted at the farm level to show what kind of impact it would have, with her research often appearing on the university’s farmdoc daily website.
IFT: What does an agricultural research analyst do?
SWANSON: My job requires a lot of research and reading. Whatever is happening dictates what I write about. It may be weather, war in the world, Congress, legislation or macroeconomics. Research, reading, analyzing data and turning it into a format easy for the reader to understand is my job.
IFT: What does a typical day (if there is such a thing) look like for you?
SWANSON: Normally I am at the computer most of the day. At times I go out to speak to a group, but I’m usually researching, reading and writing at my home office.
IFT: Did you grow up on a farm? If so, did it lead you to this career?
SWANSON: I grew up on a grain farm in Logan County in central Illinois. As a high schooler I wasn’t sure I’d go into an ag career. Experience in FFA led me to agriculture. I got a master’s degree in ag economics. After grad school, I worked for Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM) for 1st Farm Credit Services (part of Compeer Financial today) as portfolio manager for seven years. University of Illinois agriculture economist Gary Schnitkey had been my adviser in grad school. We stayed in contact afterwards and he shared the job posting for this job. I started here in 2017.
IFT: What’s the best career or life advice you have received?
SWANSON: I know it sounds kind of cliché, but it is: Stay in touch and connected to people who have had an impact on you and your career. Every person you interact with in college and early career are potential connections for future opportunities or for growth. Gary Schnitkey is one of those people I kept in touch with for years between then and now. It brought me here.
IFT: What is a memorable moment in your career so far?
SWANSON: It’s not winning awards or recognition. The thing that stands out for me is in 2018, when I was the lead author on a farmdoc article for the first time and it happened to be my birthday that day! Throughout college and grad school and eight years in between, I had used farmdoc for things I was working on, so it was a special moment to be a lead author on a farmdoc article. Since then, I’ve been the lead or co-author on more than 250 farmdoc daily articles.
IFT: So, tell us a little more about your contributions to farmdoc today. How do you come up with ideas?
SWANSON: Over last four or five years we’ve had no shortage of ideas, one topic comes after another. The topics are dictated by whatever is happening in the world or locally — economy, weather, policy — and of interest to our wide audience including academia, farmers, media, legislators, agribusiness and ag associations.
IFT: Any particular reports or reactions come to mind?
SWANSON: In the middle of the trade conflict with China, 2018-19, I was lead writer on a farmdoc article showing corn and soybean prices in the U.S. with a timeline of key milestones in the trade conflict with China and other nations. It was about six months into the situation and it garnered a lot of interest. It got to Congressional offices and made its way to President Trump as well.
Also, last year I did research into legislation about transfer taxes for farmers which was on the legislative table at the time. Again, it made its way to state and congressional offices. I feel like it’s an honor when work that you have done is getting interest from that level of legislators and it opened the door for more discussion.
IFT: What are some of main issues you are focusing on these days?
SWANSON: Currently impacts from the war in Russia and Ukraine are a big topic. Now attention is being paid to potential yields and income this fall and input cost outlook for next year, looking at policy for the next Farm Bill and examining what the impacts of it might be.
IFT: With all that you have achieved in your career so far, you are also part of a farm and raising young children. How do you manage as a working mom in a busy career? Do you have any tips for finding balance?
SWANSON: My husband Brett and I farm with his family where we raise corn, soybeans and four kids on the farm. It can be hard to manage a farming family, children and a busy career. Three things I have learned in this balancing act: set realistic expectations, be purposeful with my time, and graciously accept help.
IFT: I know it’s the work, not recognition that drives you, but please tell is a little bit about some recognition you and your family has received for the work you do?
SWANSON: In 2019, we received the Illinois Farm Bureau Excellence in Agriculture Award and represented the state at national level in 2020 where we received fourth place in the national American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Excellence in Agriculture Award Program. That award process is a good opportunity for self-reflection. It requires you to examine your goals, personally and professionally, in terms of ag involvement and set goals for future involvement.