“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems as though Emerson wrote these words just for an Iowa farmer, who cared enough, was passionate enough, and worked hard enough to help make American agriculture a global business.

U.S.-grown crops, meats and other agricultural products flow to markets all over the world, meeting the growing demand for high quality food, creating jobs and pumping dollars back the economies of Iowa and other agricultural states. Indeed agriculture is one of the few sectors that the United States enjoys a trade surplus.

America’s ag export success is no accident. It required relentless work, and special talents, to develop the relationships required to increase the exports of U.S. farm goods to international markets and to bust down well-entrenched trade barriers. It took a man like Iowa farmer Dean Kleckner.

Kleckner, who passed away last week at 82, was a visionary who clearly saw that the future of American agriculture—with its vast ability to produce—would revolve around exports.

Kleckner worked tirelessly to build those export markets and support farmers’ incomes as president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation for a decade beginning in 1975. He carried on that work for 14 years as president of the American Farm Bureau Federation through 2000.

Later he served as chairman of Truth About Trade & Technology (TATT), an Iowa-based non-profit group is led by farmers to support free trade and freedom of farmers around the world to choose technology.

Kleckner’s plain-speaking manner, humor, listening skills and sharp memory helped him build strong relationships everywhere he went. And that was a lot of places.

In all, Kleckner traveled to more than 80 countries and met countless foreign leaders, ag ministers and countless thousands of others to help pry open doors for U.S. agricultural products. He was the only American farmer on the U.S. advisory team to attend the kickoff a critical world trade meeting in Uruguay and served on a trade advisory committee for three U.S. presidents, working to help farmers gain access to export markets, while helping to spur related businesses.

Kleckner grew up on a farm near Rudd, a small town in Floyd County. He started farming full-time at 18 after his father died, a responsibility that kept him from attending college.

Yet Kleckner’s vision for the future of U.S. agriculture stretched far and wide; all around the globe, really. And American farmers are much better off because of that.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.