LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR COOPERATIVE LEADERS
This is a continuing series of interviews with MFA Incorporated’s board of directors to help members get to better know their cooperative’s leadership. In this edition, we’re featuring Steve Stone, District 12 director from Galena, Mo., where he and his family run a 400-head cow/ calf operation and grow hay and pasture.
When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Stone: I believe it’s honesty and integrity, even though team spirit and accountability are close behind. As our values statement says, “Honesty is about what you say. Integrity is about what you do. We will only make promises that we can keep.” I try to live my life that way and wouldn’t want to be involved with a co-op that didn’t share those values. In good times and bad times, the board and employees of MFA are a great bunch of people to work with, all of us focused on the common goal of serving farmers with honesty and integrity in everything we do.
What would you say are some of MFA’s most significant changes and achievements since you were elected to the board in 2018?
Stone: The new retail sales structure is probably the biggest change. We’ve also seen some consolidations and location closures as MFA works to be more efficient with its resources and infrastructure. Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and figuring out how to keep stores open and conduct meetings brought changes in how we did business. As a board, we’re becoming really involved with MFA’s audit and risk, governance and strategic planning committees and are trying to establish more open lines of communications with staff. By taking a more active role, it gets us in touch and in tune with people in all areas of MFA—not just sitting in the boardroom.
MFA’s 2021 fiscal year ended Aug. 31 with a strong financial improvement over the past few years. What are some of the key factors in those results?
Stone: A lot of ag businesses have struggled, not just MFA, but we’ve worked really hard to “right the ship.” Many of the issues were out of our control, from weather to grain prices to the overall economy. This year, those factors turned around, with favorable weather and commodity prices, so farmers were able to invest back into their operations. MFA management and staff did a good job of managing expenses and marketing products to the farmers who had extra money to spend. They also did a great job having the products the farmers needed and wanted, even though it wasn’t always easy to keep those on the shelves.
Even with a profitable year, MFA can’t rest on its laurels. What opportunities and challenges does
the cooperative face? How will you and your fellow board members help keep the company on track?
Stone: Opportunity-wise, MFA can work toward generating new business, getting a bigger share of the marketplace and perfecting our new sales structure. The way that I like to be sold is for a person to know what I need and offer services or products without me having to ask about it. That all comes down to customer partnering. The MFA sales staff must work to develop those personal relationships, and those relationships must be measurable, monitored and rewarded. And just like farmers, MFA needs to have the mindset of reinvesting in our infrastructure when we have profitable years. As for challenges, we’d have to be crystal ball readers to know what the weather, trade and markets are going to do. But we do know MFA faces some tough decisions on consolidations and pooling assets to remain efficient and profitable. As a board, our challenge is to support management and staff in their efforts to make 2022 the best year it can be.
What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
Stone: I didn’t realize how big and complex MFA was until I got in the boardroom and tried to wrap my head around how it all worked. I still learn new things at every board meeting. Also, I didn’t realize the diversity of agribusiness in the state of Missouri. I’ve gotten to know some of the best people from every sector of agriculture, and it’s been a great experience. I look forward to serving in the years to come.