Q&A with MFA
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 feature District 3 director Jim Novinger of Kirksville, Mo., who runs a diversified farm with row-crop, beef cattle and feedlot operations.
When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Novinger: It’s hard to find any value that is more important than honesty. If customers don’t have trust in MFA—and we don’t have trust in them—then certainly it’s hard to move forward. Along with that comes the integrity to do what’s right if a problem does exist. As long as we’re looking out for our patrons just as we do our own jobs, I think we will remain successful and they will continue to have faith in us. How many times have we heard that without your word, you have nothing? It only takes a few times of losing that trust, and you’ll never get it back.
MFA ended its fiscal year in August with a strong financial performance. How has MFA been able to achieve positive results despite industry challenges?
Novinger: From the outset of this past year, everybody had the same frame of mind—we were going to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it was necessary to accomplish the goals we had in our strategic plan. I think a positive, can-do attitude had a lot to do with our success. Along with having a good year financially, MFA served farmers’ needs due to employees working on inventories, looking in other places to get certain products that we couldn’t find in our normal channels. We owe much of our success to those efforts. Of course, we got off to an awfully good fall last year and spread a lot of fertilizer. It seems to be a key to how well MFA’s year does if the farmer is able to get a good portion of inputs applied early and in the off-season.
As a diversified producer, you’ve had challenges in both the row-crop and cattle sectors. How has MFA helped farmers like you navigate those adversities?
Novinger: The local MFA employees, whether it’s the store manager or our agronomy and livestock KAMs (key account managers), have become a dependable source of information and have been able to satisfy my needs as a producer. For example, a year ago at this time, we didn’t know what we were going to do about certain herbicides because we didn’t have a source, or at least not our usual sources. It was true on the livestock side, too, with products like penicillin and certain vaccines. At the same time, commodities didn’t necessarily become unavailable, but they did become scarce enough that we had to refigure our rations. Thanks to MFA, none of these issues ended up being near as much of a problem as we thought, either by substitution or finding ways to get the products. As a producer—and member of the board—I felt good about that.
Why are cooperatives like MFA still relevant in today’s agricultural marketplace? And why is it important for members to get involved?
Novinger: Most co-ops were started because of a need, whether it was ag inputs, like MFA’s business, or electricity and telephone service. Even though some of those needs have changed, co-ops continue to serve their members in that way. In addition, co-ops add competition to the marketplace, and as far as a producer is concerned, that never hurts anything. By getting involved in their co-ops, farmers can help management understand what’s really going on out in the country. I can tell you, as board members, we’re not afraid to give MFA management our unbiased opinions, and it helps everyone learn a lot of things that we may not otherwise know.
What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
Novinger: I’ve been around MFA since the late 1950s and early ’60s, but I was surprised to see how big its footprint was, how many facilities we have in areas that I really wasn’t familiar with, and how MFA serves farmers and customers all over Missouri and border states, too. I’ve been amazed at the complexity of this business and the number of important decisions that have to be made daily. I’ve learned so much from my time on the board, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
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