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But the acronym CEO—for chief executive officer—certainly fits most farmers
CEO PANELISTS Greg Leman, Jeremy Jack and Bruce Frasier, discussed the roles and responsibilities of farmer-CEOs during the recent Bayer CropScience Ag issues Forum in San Antonio.
Regulation poses challenges for all three. Requirements to use larger gestation pens, Leman said, will reduce profit. He was pressured by his buyer to put in the larger pens, which will mean an additional $3 per pig additional cost or 1.5 fewer pigs per sow per year. He asked the buyer if the change would mean he could get more for his hogs. “I will not get paid more,” he said.
Frazier said he grew up in a regulatory environment. “I think I’m able to accept it a little easier than my predecessors. But if the Department of Labor visits my farm, they will stay until they find something wrong.”
He said farmers and ranchers need to be watchful for new Clean Water Act regulations that “will define ‘Waters of the United States.’ We have to be ready.”
Jack agreed that farmers have to stay up on regulations. “We record everything we do—seed, fertilizer, nitrogen rates, and irrigation. We analyze all the data. We spend a lot of time with it.”
They talked about preparation for the future.
“I worry about the future of agriculture,” Frazier said. “Where is the talent coming from? That’s one reason we need immigration reform. No one wants to raise kids to be farm workers, but we need a younger generation. Farmers are getting older and farming is at the bottom of the hierarchy of jobs.” He has two children who live in Austin who are interested in the farm, just not living on it. “They want to manage it from Austin.”
Jack said he’s tackled an issue no one wants to consider. “Three years ago we went through a series of what ifs. For instance, what if someone dies? Who is next in place to take over? We now have a succession strategy.”
Leman said his four daughters could step in. “The rules have changed and I have no concerns about one or two of my daughters taking over. Our job today is mostly mental.”
They also discussed challenges they’ve already tackled or that lie ahead.
“We’ve changed production practices that make us more efficient,” Jack said. “Regulations will bring more challenges and I’m concerned about the public perception of what we do. We know about food; we have to go to the Internet or Facebook to tell our stories.”
Leman agrees that regulations, such as the requirement to make gestation pens larger, pose problems. “I also wonder what the consumer is willing to pay for,” he said. But he also appreciates the independence he has to make decisions and take responsibility for the outcome—good or bad.
Frazier said the biggest challenge he sees is succession. “Who will take over? It may not be family.”
But in the meantime, he’s content and expressed what he believes his fellow panelists and most people in agriculture feel. “Every day I work with people who truly love what they are doing and take pride in their work.”