Taking the lead

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

The MFA Board of Directors has three new members after district meetings and elections were held in early March.

Tim Brand, a row-crop farmer from Glasgow, Mo., was elected to represent District 6; Gerald Eggerman, who runs a diversified row-crop and livestock farm in South Greenfield, Mo., was elected from District 11; and Steve Stone, a cow-calf producer from Galena, Mo., will serve District 12 on the board.

They replace outgoing directors Kendall Kircher, Glen Cope and Don Mills, whose terms ended in March. Also re-elected to their positions on the MFA board were Jimmy Reading, District 7, and Davin Althoff, District 9. Members of the corporate board are eligible to serve three-year terms and are limited to four consecutive terms. Operating under those rules means that five more of the 14 members will leave the board due to term limits by March 2020.

“I’d like to thank those outgoing directors for their dedication and contribution to the organization,” MFA Incorporated CEO Ernie Verslues said. “There will to be a lot of turnover on the board over the next few years, but there are always able replacements willing to step up. We’re looking forward to moving on with new faces and new leadership on our current board.”

Mills, who had been chairman for the past eight years, is succeeded in that role by Wayne Nichols, a beef producer who farms near West Plains, Mo. Nichols said leading the MFA board is a “rather awesome challenge,” and he, too, will miss his fellow directors who left the board this spring. But, he added, new blood brings new perspectives to the organization.

“I think it’s good for organizations to have some turnover. It provides opportunities for more people to get involved at the grassroots level and keeps fresh ideas coming in,” said Nichols, who has served on the board for seven years. “I also believe farmers grow personally and professionally by belonging to a board like MFA.”

In addition to elections, the March meetings in each of MFA’s 14 districts gave farmer-owners a chance to learn about the cooperative’s financial progress, hear from management and operating divisions and get updated on highlights from their respective regions.

Looking ahead, Nichols listed regulatory issues and competition in the marketplace as two of the biggest challenges that MFA and its board members face, but he said he is confident the cooperative’s leaders are up to the task.

“I believe this board is fully engaged, and we have a good management at all levels to help guide us through those challenges,” Nichols said. “One of the best things board members can do is be a spokesperson for the cooperative and get out there with the farmers, so when they have questions and concerns, we’re available. Cooperatives bring a lot of value to the marketplace for us as producers. The concept of people working together makes a whole lot of sense. We can work better together rather than independently.”

Loyalty, leadership land Mills in Hall of Fame

Don Mills, immediate past chairman of MFA Incorporated’s Board of Directors, has been inducted into the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives (MIC) Hall of Fame. Mills was recognized during the MIC annual banquet March 12 for his lifelong loyalty to cooperatives as a member, employee and leader.

His cooperative connections began 44 years ago in Arkansas as a farmer and member of Cave Springs Co-op, an MFA affiliate, where he served on the board. As area farmland converted to urban uses, Mills’ opportunity to farm diminished. His loss was the cooperative world’s gain. He was recruited to manage MFA’s company-owned location in Rogers, Ark., and eventually made his way to El Dorado Springs, Mo., to manage another MFA-affiliated local cooperative. This role brought the challenge of turning around an operation that was struggling financially. Mills’ understanding of cooperatives and business acumen helped the cooperative return to profitability.

Always a farmer at heart, in 2005 Mills returned to the farm full time, remaining a loyal patron of cooperatives. In this role, he made his biggest impact. In 2006, Mills was elected to the MFA Incorporated Board of Directors. In 2010, the humble, soft-spoken farmer was chosen as chairman, a position he held until his term on the board ended this past year.

“Don assumed the role of chairman at a difficult time for MFA,” said Ernie Verslues, MFA Incorporated CEO. “He quickly assessed the situation, understood the implications and knew action was needed. In few words, he asked tough, necessary questions. Management had to earn his trust.”

Mills’ experience at all levels of the cooperative and his strong values uniquely prepared him to help MFA grow stronger, even in difficult economic times, Verslues added.

“How a cooperative’s decisions affect the overall membership was always foremost in Don’s mind,” he said. “He is a forward thinker who is not afraid to take calculated risks that will help advance the cooperative and its members.”

The MIC Hall of Fame honors leaders of Missouri’s cooperatives and is updated each year through a nomination and selection process. The program was officially created “to ensure a permanent, prestigious recognition for future generations of cooperative leaders with exemplary service and lasting achievements.”

Joining Mills in the MIC Hall of Fame for 2018 were Randy Mooney, Dairy Farmers of America; J. Chris Cariker, KAMO Power; Jake Fisher, Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative; John Bill Greer, Webster Electric Cooperative; Dave Ramsey, Associated Electric Cooperative; and Bob Idel, FCS Financial.

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