The Denver-based American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers elected Fred L. Hepler, AFM, AAC of Edmond, Okla., as its new president-elect during its recent Annual Conference in Reno, Nev.

Hepler will join S. James Rickert, AFM, ARA of Fall River Mills, Calif., the group’s new president, and Merrill Swanson, ARA, of San Antonio, the new first vice president, on the leadership team of the organization that represents many of the nation’s farm managers and rural appraisers.


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Helper is the senior asset manager for Cottonwood Ag Management.  He is responsible for the West Coast, Pacific Northwest, the Southeast regions of the US and special corporate projects.  He has over 35 years of experience in managing large acreage direct farming operations, farm management, agricultural consulting, and agricultural real estate sales. 

Prior to joining the Cottonwood team he was president of Stampede Farms and a senior portfolio manager for Wexford Capital.  While at Wexford, he developed a direct farming operation comprised of over 50,000 acres in six states.  His prior experience also includes part ownership of the Westchester Group, a global farm real estate sales, management, and consulting firm which managed over $1.0 billion of agricultural assets for public pension funds and private investors. 

During his career he has sold, managed, or farmed in 36 different states which involved 39 different crops.  Fred brings in-depth, diversified experience in agriculture investment and operations throughout the United States to the team. 

Merrill E. Swanson, ARA, is a native of the Texas Gulf Coast from El Campo in Wharton County. Merrill attended El Campo public schools. At an early age, he learned about agriculture by working on the family rice farm. He is a 1986 graduate of Texas A & M University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics and a 1988 graduate of Texas A & M University with a Master of Agriculture in Land Economics and Real Estate.

Professionally, Merrill serves as a senior managing director with Valbridge Property Advisors I Dugger, Canaday, Grafe, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas which was formerly the firm of Love and Dugger. Beginning his career in August 1989 with Love and Dugger, Merrill has been actively employed since then with a trade area of South, Southeast, Central and West Texas.

Valuation assignments have been prepared throughout Texas since the late 1980’s. Land brokerage has been in South and Southeast Texas, the Texas Hill Country and West Texas.  Primary company duties include a focus on rural land and agribusiness properties though appraisal, appraisal review, counseling and brokerage.


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