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Waitley honored for decades of service to Idaho agriculture

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – A person who has promoted and defended Idaho’s agriculture industry for more than five decades has been given a special honor by the University of Idaho.

The U of I recently presented an honorary doctorate degree in agricultural science to Rick Waitley, who has organized and managed countless agricultural-related organizations and events in Idaho for half a century.  

About 120 members of Idaho’s agricultural industry attended a Feb. 23 event recognizing that honor.

An honorary doctorate is awarded by U of I to a person who has made significant contributions to the state of Idaho, Michael Parrella, dean of U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, told those who attended the event.

Waitley is a partner to the university “who has made a considerable impact on our institution, the agricultural industry and the state of Idaho,” Parrella said.

Waitley serves as president of Association Management Group, which oversees the management and lobbying for more than 40 agriculture commodity and farm organizations in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.

He is responsible for creating or managing numerous groups and events that have advanced Idaho’s agricultural industry over the years, including Leadership Idaho Agriculture, Food Producers of Idaho, the Idaho Coop Council, Idaho Ag in the Classroom and Idaho Ag Summit.

The university received 34 letters of support endorsing Waitley’s honorary degree.

“Suffice it to say I do not believe there is another person in this state who has done more to positively advocate for Idaho’s farmers and ranchers than Rick Waitley,” Blair Wilson, the former Idaho state president for Northwest Farm Credit Services, wrote in support of Waitley’s honor.

He said Waitley’s “enthusiastic and tireless approach has encouraged hundreds (if not thousands) of Idahoans to become involved in leadership positions all around the state.”

“Through his own tremendous energy, multiplied a thousand-fold by the literal army of agriculture advocates he has developed over his decades-long leadership, Rick has lifted the profile of the agricultural industry throughout Idaho and beyond,” Wilson’s letter of support states.

Waitley grew up on a farm in Meridian and became active in 4-H at a young age. He said his first exposure to the U of I occurred 56 years ago on a trip to Moscow to attend a 4-H congress on the university’s campus.

He graduated from the university in 1973 with a degree in ag education. He serves on numerous community and state boards and committees and holds the chair position for CALS’ Dean’s Advisory Board.

He has remained a staunch supporter of the University of Idaho and the state’s agricultural community for more than five decades, Parrella said.

“Mr. Waitley’s commitment to educating Idaho’s agriculture industry has made profound and enduring contributions that have shaped the landscape of Idaho’s agriculture industry,” states a joint letter from Idaho’s four congressional representatives.

Gov. Brad Little, a rancher, wrote a letter of support for Waitley’s nomination that states, “I have worked with Rick for years. His advocacy work for policies that advanced the agricultural industry and his commitment to agricultural education have helped propel the state forward.”

“I describe Rick as the go-to guy for anyone seeking information on agriculture in the state of Idaho,” Wayne Thiessen, a retired member of Idaho’s potato industry and an active CALS supporter, told people who attended the Feb. 23 event.

He said when he first started writing his letter of support for Waitley, he thought to himself, “How many pages can I write in praise of Rick’s contributions to agriculture? The list goes on and on.”