Named the director of the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA) in January 2017, Ben Thomas has deep roots in the industry that were planted in his childhood. Those roots have grown into a passion for agriculture, which has been evident throughout his career.
Ben Thomas was raised on a farm in Cochran County, Texas, where his parents, Robin and Steven Thomas, still raise row crops today. Although they say he never aspired to work in production agriculture, his parents believe his upbringing on the farm contributed to his many achievements over the years.
“Ben has always been a hard worker, and he always did a great job when he helped out on the farm,” Robin says. “The work ethic he learned in the fields has gone a long way. He learned to have self-discipline and be conscientious, and those character traits have served him well.”
After graduating from Whiteface High School in Whiteface, Texas, Ben earned his bachelor of arts degree from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He then earned a Juris Doctor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, and a master’s of law in agricultural and food law from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville.
Ben’s career aspirations led him to Washington, D.C., in 2012 where he served as legislative assistant and counsel to Sens. Max Baucus and John Walsh, helping write and implement the 2014 Farm Bill. In addition, Ben was the chief of staff for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from December 2014 until June 2016, which is when he became the deputy undersecretary for the USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs Mission.
His lifelong interest in agriculture coupled with his high level of experience in the industry make him an excellent fit for his current position as director of the MDA. Along with leading the department, Ben regularly travels across the state to connect with farmers and producers, and he has traveled around the globe to meet with various agricultural trade associations.
“Ben definitely has a passion for agriculture, and I think that comes from growing up around it and from being very involved on the policy side of things,” says Andy Fjeseth, communications officer for the MDA. “He is a great listener, which is one of the things that makes him a great leader. He is very driven by the mission of the department, and his leadership is a great asset to Montana’s ag industry.”