Viewpoint

Strong governance makes strong cooperatives

Written by Ernie Verslues on .

In any member-driven organization, governance is a good topic to revisit occasionally. As MFA district elections approach, I would like to take this opportunity to remind MFA members of how your cooperative’s board is elected and operates.

The timing for doing so is right. In the next few years, MFA Incorporated’s Board of Directors will see significant turnover. Members of your corporate board are eligible to serve three-year terms and are limited to four consecutive terms. For the current board, operating under those rules means that eight of the 14 members will leave the board due to term limits by March 2020. We have a good system in place to identify board members for each election, not just when term limits come into play.  

There is a tremendous amount of knowledge that leaves with each of these directors. However, the long-term strategy that is approved by your board ensures there are safeguards in place to minimize the impact of turnover.  

Each of these board members will miss the opportunity to serve you, and their contributions will be sorely missed. Yet, they will also tell you that new directors will bring new ideas and new energy.  

Any successful organization, from the smallest church board to highly visible public boards, requires engagement, participation and an understanding of the business by its board members. From a big-picture perspective, I would tell you that the leadership from a cooperative’s board should reflect the needs of its members. The board is charged with helping to guide the strategic use of the cooperative’s member resources.

In more specific terms, MFA’s corporate board exists to provide a link to the larger membership—to be the collective voice of our farmers. The board sets guiding principles for the cooperative—the foundation that MFA’s management team follows in conducting day-to-day business. The board measures management’s results in carrying out these principles. Through these efforts, the board ensures that MFA remains a viable business operation that benefits its members.

The process to fill MFA’s corporate board begins at the local level. MFA is divided into 14 geographical districts. Each district has a nominating committee made up of one member from each MFA Agri Services location and MFA locally owned affiliate in the district. That nominating committee is responsible for identifying one or more candidates for the corporate board. These candidates are voted on by locally elected delegates from each district. You’ll see this process in action at district meetings in March.

The election process is something that I would encourage you to take a look at. When you combine our term-limit rules with the changing demographics of agriculture, there will be great opportunity to be a part of leading MFA into the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Having been around a number of MFA directors, I will tell you that they all admit the job is a commitment, but also that the experience helped them strengthen their business acumen and improve their farming operations. Overall, they will tell you that it is an honor to represent their fellow farmers.

In my career at MFA, I’ve reported to different layers of management and now directly to the MFA Board of Directors. I have seen how strong leadership from both is necessary to advance the company. And, I’ve seen other companies suffer when the board was not focused on the true reason for the business or not fully engaged with management. Some of those businesses are no longer in operation.

In those terms, I can tell you that MFA’s historically strong board composition has been an asset to the company. I also believe that MFA’s management has a strong partnership with its corporate board of directors.

That relationship is strong because, year in and year out, MFA’s board conducts itself in a way that exhibits strategic leadership, shows accountability to MFA’s members and is proactive to the changes in agriculture. Those qualities are essential to survive and grow in today’s agricultural and economic environment. And that’s something we intend to do.

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