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‘So much’ for the year ahead

Co-op Winter Managers’ Meeting kickstarts 2017 with wide range of sessions
Story and photos by Chris Villines 1/26/2017


Mike Pearson, a Midwest farmer and host of Iowa Public Television’s “Market to Market” agriculture news program, gives 2017 Co-op Winter Managers’ Meeting attendees a glimpse into the industry’s future with his presentation, “What’s Driving Agriculture in the Year Ahead,” on Jan. 9 in Murfreesboro.
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Following a year that, while successful, included obstacles such as drought, lower commodity prices, and a tight wholesale and retail environment, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Chief Executive Officer Bart Krisle began last month’s 2017 Co-op Winter Managers’ Meeting in Murfreesboro with a hopeful, motivational quote by Helen Keller:

“Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Krisle’s words to the more than 240 Co-op managers and key employees at the two-day meeting Jan. 9 and 10 tied in perfectly with the meeting’s theme: “So Much More Inside.” They also offered food for thought as member Co-ops mull the proposed unification of the system into one retail cooperative.

“To stay true to our mission of being relevant to the farmers of the system, we have to adapt,” said Krisle. “We have to look at ways we can adjust due to all the changes taking place around us. We truly believe this unification strategy leads us in a way that fulfills that mission.”

Besides Krisle’s kickoff message, the meeting’s agenda was filled with other sessions designed to educate, inform, and inspire Co-op personnel.

First off was “Managing in a Downturn Market,” a panel discussion led by TFC regional manager Jeff Griggs and featuring member Co-op managers Clint Hodges, Sevier Farmers; Deb Dunn, White County Farmers; Brian Ladd of Marshall Farmers; and Stan Anderson, assistant manager of Tipton Farmers. Panelists addressed challenging topics like effectively investing time and resources, operating more efficiently, and making the Co-op stand out in a crowded marketplace.

“I think the greatest thing we can do to stand out is to provide excellent customer service,” said Dunn. “Customers always remember how you make them feel when they walk through your door. To keep them coming in, you’ve got to make sure that every employee is dedicated to helping them and making them feel welcome.”

Amanda Robertson, beginning farmer regional coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, explained to the group USDA’s New Farmer Program, in which it defines a beginning farmer as an individual who has not operated a farm for more than 10 years.

“The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA new tools and flexibility in several key programs to support beginning farmers and ranchers,” said Robertson. “It is a priority of USDA to ensure the success and sustainability of these agriculture practitioners.”

The meeting’s afternoon session began with separate breakout sessions led by TFC’s Agronomy and Farm, Home & Fleet Divisions. The agronomy session included a Dicamba application update from WinField and discussions on nitrogen sources and ag technology while the Farm, Home & Fleet breakout featured brief presentations from TFC department managers and product managers on sales and marketing opportunities.

Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Regional Field Services Director Melissa Bryant followed the breakout sessions with a legislative update that included “good financial news for the state.”

“The Tennessee General Assembly Funding Board projects $878 million in new, recurring revenue in the 2016-17 state fiscal year,” Bryant said. “The state is expected to have approximately $1 billion in nonrecurring revenue.”

Mike Pearson, a farmer and host of Iowa Public Television’s nationally syndicated agriculture program “Market to Market,” wrapped up Day 1 of the meeting with a rousing 45-minute presentation on “What’s Driving Agriculture in the Year Ahead.” His talk focused on three main areas: commodity prices, U.S. demographic changes, and what’s happening internationally.

“At the end of the day, we’ve all chosen to be in this business,” said Pearson. “A lot of us have been involved in agriculture our entire lives. At the Co-op, you work with farmers who hope to one day pass their operations on to the next generation — what does the long-term outlook for American agriculture look like?

“On that front, I’m pretty excited, but the reality is that at present we are in a state of correction and a period where we’re rebuilding demand through low commodity prices.”

Pearson added that even with the challenges of the current commodity market, there are still “incredible” opportunities in agriculture.

“When prices come back down, we allow young producers to enter the business, we allow the transition of operations from one generation to the next, and we tighten our belts so we can succeed in a great way when the next price spike occurs,” he said.

And ag-centered organizations like Co-op, Pearson stressed, will be critical to influencing the future of the industry.

“Your strength is your people,” he said. “You have connections with that younger generation of farmers because you care about them and want them to be successful. You have the opportunity to be the resource they turn to first. Utilize that.”

The meeting ended with a powerful keynote presentation from former Denver Broncos captain and All-Pro linebacker Karl Mecklenburg, who shared the “Six Keys to Success” he used to rise from a walk-on football player at the University of Minnesota to a six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances during his career.

Mecklenburg’s breakdown of the six keys — teamwork, courage, dedication, desire, honesty, and forgiveness, and goal setting — blended humor with life lessons that the rigors of the National Football League taught him.

“You’ve got to have courage to keep up with change,” said Mecklenburg, who enjoyed a 12-year NFL career. “In my third year with the Broncos, the coaches asked me to switch positions to linebacker. I was a defensive lineman in high school and college, and that’s the position I was drafted for and played my first two years in the pros. But because I had the courage to change, I was able to achieve great success at linebacker.”

Another word that Mecklenburg said ties in to each of the six success keys is leadership.

“Leadership is not a title or an assignment, it’s a choice,” he stressed. “My Denver teammate and fellow team captain, John Elway, led by choice. He would sit at a different table every day at lunch to get to know his teammates and communicate his goal of winning a championship. Everyone fed off of his passion. That’s great leadership.”

Mecklenburg ended his session, and the meeting as a whole, by encouraging the leaders in attendance to “have a passion and a mission” when it comes to their own teams’ success.

“Always be committed to your community and your team,” he said. “There will be challenges, and you’ll run into obstacles along the way. But ultimately, you’ll achieve great things.”

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