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Are You Ready to Serve?

Farm Credit associations welcome new faces on their boards and committees.

Landscapes Winter 2011

When Larry Gibson attends Alabama Ag Credit board meetings, he looks around the table and sees wisdom and experience. At age 39, Gibson is younger than many of his director peers, some of whom have Farm Credit board tenures that span decades.

The appreciation runs both ways. When the more seasoned farmers and ranchers on the board look at him, they see something equally valuable — a fresh perspective and the future of Farm Credit.

“As the average age of farmers rises, it’s natural that a lot of older board members are stepping down,”” says Phillip Munden, who has been a director with Capital Farm Credit and its predecessor associations since 1990, and is currently board chairman. “We still need some directors who bring a lifetime of experience and expertise to the boardroom, but I’m happy to see an influx of younger people running for director positions.”

For 95 years, farmer-owned and -controlled Farm Credit financing cooperatives — or associations, as they are known — have provided reliable, affordable financing to America’s agricultural producers. Most association directors agree: Farm Credit needs “new blood” so it can continue to serve the next generation.

“Direction from farmer-owners on the board helps associations stay in touch with the communities they serve,” says Mike McLain, a former director of Great Plains Ag Credit for 24 years. He chose not to run the last time his term expired. “I’ve always supported term limits for state and national office,” says McLain, who raises corn, wheat, milo, cotton and cattle with his family near Gruver, in the Texas Panhandle. “I’m less adamant when it comes to Farm Credit boards — it’s harder to find good local directors to run.”

Gertrude "Gert" Hawkins, a director of Louisiana Land Bank, is a champion for diversity on Farm Credit boards. “Our board has a good diversity in generations and in background, and I provide a female point of view,” says Hawkins, who lives in New Roads, La., and farms cotton, corn, soybeans, sugarcane and wheat with her brother. “We also try to make sure that all major commodities grown are represented.” Her association benefits from her expertise as a research associate at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, where she analyzes and develops sugarcane varieties.

Although potential candidates may not recognize the benefits of serving as a director, John Prukop, chairman of the Texas AgFinance board, explains how his board service helps him: “I serve with some of the most successful producers in the region, and I learn a lot from them, including the latest business techniques, farming advances and risk management products.” He also has learned how to better manage people — an important skill in his family’s farming operation southwest of Corpus Christi, which employs 26 full-time and 150 seasonal workers.

Committed Through Good Times and Bad

Veteran Farm Credit directors have seen agriculture go through many ups and downs. Munden and his wife raise cattle near Morgan, Texas, south of Fort Worth — or they did until this past summer, when the drought dried up their stock ponds for the first time in 50 years, forcing them to sell off most of the herd. “Farm Credit understands the plight of farmers and ranchers,” Munden says. “We never considered borrowing from anyone else.”

The drought hit McLain’s cattle operation, as well. Last summer, pastures dried up, but the family was able to depend on irrigated corn and other crops. McLain appreciates Farm Credit’s commitment to agriculture through good times and bad, and that it finances all types of producers, young and old alike, regardless of the size of their operations.

Benefits of Board Service

  • Help shape the future of Farm Credit
  • Gain leadership development training
  • Learn from a successful peer group
  • Gain personal satisfaction and the opportunity to give back
  • Play a role in connecting the ag industry with Farm Credit

When Larry Gibson attends Alabama Ag Credit board meetings, he looks around the table and sees wisdom and experience. At age 39, Gibson is younger than many of his director peers, some of whom have Farm Credit board tenures that span decades.

The appreciation runs both ways. When the more seasoned farmers and ranchers on the board look at him, they see something equally valuable — a fresh perspective and the future of Farm Credit.

“As the average age of farmers rises, it’s natural that a lot of older board members are stepping down,”” says Phillip Munden, who has been a director with Capital Farm Credit and its predecessor associations since 1990, and is currently board chairman. “We still need some directors who bring a lifetime of experience and expertise to the boardroom, but I’m happy to see an influx of younger people running for director positions.”

For 95 years, farmer-owned and -controlled Farm Credit financing cooperatives — or associations, as they are known — have provided reliable, affordable financing to America’s agricultural producers. Most association directors agree: Farm Credit needs “new blood” so it can continue to serve the next generation.

“Direction from farmer-owners on the board helps associations stay in touch with the communities they serve,” says Mike McLain, a former director of Great Plains Ag Credit for 24 years. He chose not to run the last time his term expired. “I’ve always supported term limits for state and national office,” says McLain, who raises corn, wheat, milo, cotton and cattle with his family near Gruver, in the Texas Panhandle. “I’m less adamant when it comes to Farm Credit boards — it’s harder to find good local directors to run.”

Gertrude "Gert" Hawkins, a director of Louisiana Land Bank, is a champion for diversity on Farm Credit boards. “Our board has a good diversity in generations and in background, and I provide a female point of view,” says Hawkins, who lives in New Roads, La., and farms cotton, corn, soybeans, sugarcane and wheat with her brother. “We also try to make sure that all major commodities grown are represented.” Her association benefits from her expertise as a research associate at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, where she analyzes and develops sugarcane varieties.

Although potential candidates may not recognize the benefits of serving as a director, John Prukop, chairman of the Texas AgFinance board, explains how his board service helps him: “I serve with some of the most successful producers in the region, and I learn a lot from them, including the latest business techniques, farming advances and risk management products.” He also has learned how to better manage people — an important skill in his family’s farming operation southwest of Corpus Christi, which employs 26 full-time and 150 seasonal workers.

Committed Through Good Times and Bad

Veteran Farm Credit directors have seen agriculture go through many ups and downs. Munden and his wife raise cattle near Morgan, Texas, south of Fort Worth — or they did until this past summer, when the drought dried up their stock ponds for the first time in 50 years, forcing them to sell off most of the herd. “Farm Credit understands the plight of farmers and ranchers,” Munden says. “We never considered borrowing from anyone else.”

The drought hit McLain’s cattle operation, as well. Last summer, pastures dried up, but the family was able to depend on irrigated corn and other crops. McLain appreciates Farm Credit’s commitment to agriculture through good times and bad, and that it finances all types of producers, young and old alike, regardless of the size of their operations.

“We still need some directors who bring a lifetime of experience and expertise to the boardroom, but I’m happy to see an influx of younger people running for director positions.”

– Phillip Munden

He started farming with his father, and when he decided to step out on his own, he contacted Farm Credit. “I was fresh out of college, ready to set the world on fire,” he remembers. “I wanted to buy land and new equipment. My loan officer explained how I needed some equity before I could borrow.” With Farm Credit’s help, the McLain operation grew slowly. Today, the family farms and ranches on several thousand acres.

The Prukops recently cut back on stocker calves because of a lack of pasture. Their dryland cotton did well this year, only because fall moisture stayed in the ground, and summer heat ripened the crop early. Fortunately, their other crops, which include watermelons and sesame, are irrigated. No matter what the weather or pricing conditions, though, when it comes to serving on the Farm Credit board, “I always try to put myself in the stockholder’s shoes,” Prukop says.

Do You Have What It Takes?

Munden, McLain, Hawkins and Prukop are busy people, but they find time to serve on Farm Credit boards for various reasons. They typically attend monthly board meetings, where they set policies that govern day-to-day operations for association staff, review reports to assess association performance levels and are responsible for establishing strategic direction. Directors, who usually serve three-year terms, also take part in regional and national Farm Credit meetings and training sessions. And though the time commitment varies from association to association, directors are compensated for time spent at meetings.

“I ran for election because I thought I could expand my leadership ability and learn more about the important role that Farm Credit plays in the industry,” Hawkins says. “Farm Credit training has been excellent.”

Munden admits that reading board materials consumes more of his time than in the past. “Many associations have grown as a result of mergers, and there’s more responsibility today,” he says. “But serving on the board is a way to pay forward what Farm Credit has done for me. I have always considered it an honor and a privilege to be elected by my peers to represent them on this board.” He and other directors say they also benefit from friendships they’ve made along the way.

Board candidates sometimes face stiff competition. If you run and don’t win, you can always try again. As a friend told Prukop when he ran for the first time, “You won’t know until you try.”

Unlike the shareholders of investor-owned corporations, co-op member-customers elect fellow members to director positions, making co-op boards highly responsive to the membership.

If you have skills and experience that would benefit your local Farm Credit association, contact your association’s board secretary to learn how to throw your hat in the ring for the board or an elected committee, such as the nominating committee. Or, encourage a friend or neighbor to get involved. At least, attend your association’s annual meeting and exercise your right to vote for the board candidates of your choice. – Nancy Jorgensen

Young Leaders Step Up

USDA reports that the average American farmer is 57, and the age continues to rise. At 43 and 39, respectively, Randy Autrey and Larry Gibson are comparatively young.

Recognizing the importance of preparing young people to be rural leaders and advocates for agriculture, Farm Credit Bank of Texas offers a leadership program that teaches younger Farm Credit customers, such as Autrey and Gibson, about finance, farm policy and other issues. Several have gone on to serve on their local Farm Credit boards.

Autrey, who runs a cow-calf operation near Estancia, N.M., attended the Farm Credit Young Leaders Program in 2006, and later was elected to the Ag New Mexico board. “I’m still learning, but I’m excited about what lies ahead,” he says. “I feel it is my responsibility to help my fellow association members, as so many have done before me. Farm Credit helps our farming and ranching community so we can help feed the world.”

Gibson, a consulting forester from Aliceville, Ala., participated in the same program in 2008, before his election to the Alabama Ag Credit board. “As a small business owner still trying to grow while acquiring more land and servicing debt, I feel I bring a fresh perspective to the association,” he says.

Like many borrowers in his association, Gibson grows timber. “Timber cash flows come slower than with other crops,” he says. “My experience in long-term outlooks helps me realize the decisions we make today will guide the organization for years to come.”


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