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On the right track

The management training program is just one impactful way that Tennessee Farmers Cooperative invests in future agricultural leaders
Story and photos by Allison Parker 11/17/2017


Dillon Belew, a recent graduate of the University at Tennessee at Martin, completed his year on the Tennessee Farmers Cooperative management training program this October. Dillon has spent the last year working at Sumner Farmers Cooperative in Gallatin.
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With 53 member cooperatives across the state, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative understands that in order to keep the future of the company bright it must recruit, train, and educate the highest quality employees. The Co-op management training program does just that.

The program, which has been in existence for more than 50 years is designed to allow candidates to gain the knowledge and experience required for promotion to management and other career opportunities within the TFC.

Trainees spend a calendar year receiving training at member Co-op locations and getting exposure to the duties and responsibilities in various aspects at Co-op stores and TFC departmental levels, as well as continuing classroom education. 

Being a lifelong learner is an important characteristic of a TFC management trainee. During a trainee’s year in the program, he or she will receive 225 hours of classroom instruction, 60 hours of online training, and 80 hours of team building activities. This does not include the countless field trips to places like the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation to learn more about the agriculture industry.

Seeing that trainees get a well-rounded experience has become a passion for Paul Binkley. For the last three years, Paul has served as TFC’s director of education and training and for the past seven years supervisor of the management trainee program.

“When selecting management trainees, we look for folks who are passionate about agriculture,” says Paul. “We want people who are team players, self-motivated, and always give their best to their work no matter the size of the task.”

The most recent graduate of the management training program is Dillon Belew, a native of Bartlett. Before Dillon started on the training program, he and his wife had moved to Portland in Sumner County, where he began looking for jobs in his field of study. After doing some research, Dillon reached out to Paul in October 2016 to inquire about the possibility of joining Co-op’s management training program. Over the last year, Dillon has been a management trainee at Sumner Farmers Cooperative in Gallatin, where he jumped head first into learning the ins and outs of the business. Dillon worked as a full-time Sumner Farmers employee and attended monthly meetings at TFC headquarters in LaVergne with the 13 other trainees on the program.  During each visit, they would learn about a different area of the cooperative system.

While on the program, trainees get hands-on experiences in the areas of management to general agriculture knowledge at Co-op events across the state. Dillon says that the highlight of the training program for him was the State Tour. This week-long event, held each October, begins in East Tennessee as all trainees together make their way across the state to visit farms and cooperatives in order to show how the diversity of agriculture industry is as well as how different cooperatives set up their business.

“One of the biggest things I took away from the State Tour was that each region truly has a specialty,” says Dillon. “West Tennessee has agronomy, Middle is a transition between agronomy and livestock, and East has a lot of vegetables and dairy cattle. It was interesting to see how Co-ops catered to their customers’ needs in their respective regions” 

Outside of the management training events, Dillon says that a lot of his learning came from spending time in the store with his coworkers.

“When I came to work at Co-op, they said that it was a family atmosphere,” he says.  A couple of other placed I’d worked talked about having a family atmosphere, but once I came to Co-op, I knew what it was like to work where everybody knows and cares about each other.”

Dillon is hoping to stay with the Co-op system after his recent graduation from the program, with the ultimate goal of moving his family back to his native West Tennessee.

Current Williamson Farmers Cooperative Manager Randy Stubblefield was a member of the 2010 graduating class of the Co-op training program. Over the course of his year on the program, Randy spent most of his time training in the Retail Development Department at TFC headquarters in LaVergne. Randy focused on learning more about how retail stores are laid out using computer-aided design and much more. Near the end of his training, he transitioned to Lincoln Farmers Cooperative where he learned under Manager Mark Posey.

“Lincoln County was one of the best place for me to train,” says Randy. “That way, I was able to learn the most about all sides of the business and agriculture.”

Following his year on the training program, Randy went on to be transferred to Williamson Farmers Cooperative in Franklin, where he served as showroom manager for three years and was later promoted to manager in 2015.

“As a trainee you get exposed to so many people,” Randy says. “When you get on the county level in your store, you need to know who to reach out to.  There’s no way you can know everything as a manager or employee, so you need to know who to be able to ask questions, and that’s one thing the trainee program does a great job preparing you for.”  

With nearly a decade of Co-op experience, Randy says his biggest piece of advice to anyone interested in the trainee program would be to take every experience you’re given.

“The more well-rounded an employee you are, the more useful you are to your employer,” he says. “The more useful you are to your employer, the more money you are worth.  Being a manager, now I can tell you that, usefulness and transfer of responsibility are things I’m willing to pay for.”

To qualify for the training program, applicants need a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university or an equivalent combination of education and experience, as well as a good work ethic and drive to complete each task satisfactorily.

For more information about the Tennessee Farmers Cooperative management training program. visit or email Paul Binkley at

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