Most farmers typically don’t think of themselves in terms of titans of industry, desk jockeys in expensive suits or highly compensated corporate bigwigs.

But the acronym CEO—for chief executive officer—certainly fits most farmers. They run complex, often highly leveraged businesses and frequently make million dollar decisions that could put those businesses at risk.

“CEO is a term that seems to convey a higher level of leadership,” says Bruce Frasier, president of Dixondale Farms in Carizzo Springs, Texas. “I’m just the boss,” he said, during a panel discussion on “How  Today’s Farmer CEOs are Reshaping Modern Ag,” part of the recent  Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum in San Antonio, Texas.

Water regulations are coming

The annual forum precedes the Commodity Classic, an event that attracts grain and soybean producers and the industries that support them from across the country.

Jeremy Jack, a partner in the Silent Shade Planting Company, Belzoni, Mississippi, and Chad Leman, co-owner of Leman Farms, Eureka, Illinois, joined Frazier on the panel and discussed the opportunities and possible pitfalls facing modern farmer-CEOs.

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Jack said the term CEO fits what he does, but his responsibilities go beyond management. “I consider myself a CEO but I’m also a general and a soldier,” he said. “We have 30 employees, but there is nothing on the farm I can’t do; nothing I can’t learn how to do. But I can’t do it all.”

He depends a lot on his wife, who he considers the human resources and public relations expert. His mother and sister also play crucial roles in the family operation. “My sister handles the marketing and she does a better job than I could,” he said.

Leman says he can make million dollar decisions in his operation. “If we want to change tomorrow, we can. It’s up to me whether it’s a good call or not.”

The three commented on some of the positive changes they’ve made to keep up with fluctuating markets and other pressures.

Frasier runs Dixondale farms, which produces approximately 70 percent of the onion plants grown in the United States, as well as cantaloupes. He changed the way he markets produce. “We are now a price giver,” he said. “We changed the business model and go direct to consumer.”