No part of agriculture exists in a vacuum. What happens to a rice grower may well affect the wheat grower. That was one of the most powerful lessons Berry Summerour said he has learned from the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership Program.
"It's a real eye-opener for anyone in agriculture," said Summerour, a member of the current class.
TALL is a leadership development program managed by Texas Cooperative Extension. Applications for the newest class, Class XI, are due March 15. Application forms may be found online at http://tall.tamu.edu .
The age of the participants ranges from the 20s to 50s, said Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz, program director.
The program invests 455 hours of intensive training per person in seminars, speakers and domestic and international trips over two years, Mazurkiewicz said. That is the equivalent of 38 credit hours or a master's degree in agriculture from any accredited university. The typical class size is about 25. Tuition is $2,000.
The current class has visited traditional ranches and farms, cotton textile mills, an ethanol plant, sugar mill and a wind-power farm. There have also been visits with U.S. and Mexico legislators, and the class will be taking a trip to China in April.
"Anyone in leadership in agriculture should be interested in doing this," said Summerour of Houston, a partner in Acala Partners Inc., which raises private money and equity as well as providing strategic planning for value-added agricultural ventures.
J.J. Barto of Dallas, president of J. Barto Enterprises LLC, said, "TALL is leadership enhancement, not leadership development. Leader! s who want to be challenged in their thinking and moved outside their comfort zones should participate in TALL."
TALL has given him a much broader and deeper understanding of agriculture, said Barto, a member of the current class and whose company manages cattle, timber and pecans.
Davon Cook, assistant manager for Busters Gin in Lubbock said, "The strength of the program is the breadth of the people and diversity of the people."
Participants include traditional row crop producers, bankers and lawyers, as well as those people who sell timber and landscaping plants, said Cook, who is also a member of the current class.
"Everyone can learn something from this program," Summerour said.
Cook said what has been most valuable to her are:
- The knowledge. "It's amazing what people would like to share," she said of the speakers.
- The network. Five years from now, she will still have those contacts with the TALL class members, alumni and other people they have interacted with during the class. "That is a huge resource," she said.
"It has led to some aspirations for me. "Everyone is excited about work, and it kind of rubs off on you," she added.