Q&A with MFA director Craig Lambert

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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. This edition features Craig Lambert, District 4 director from Pattonsburg, Mo., where he and his daughters, Alyssa Lambert and Lindsey Parsons, raise row crops, hay and cattle.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?
Lambert: They’re all important, but what stands out to me is innovation and technology. Change never stops. As a cooperative—and as farmers—we have to continually grow and change to remain relevant. Sometimes, I feel like technology is rapidly outpacing me, but MFA is bringing innovations to us old-school guys while also catering to the next generation. One example is how MFA is delivering service through key account managers who go out into the community rather than waiting for farmers to show up on the doorstep. It’s a new way of doing business.

You were first elected in 2020 and re-elected to serve another term this year. What motivated you to want to be on the MFA board? Why should other farmers get more involved in their cooperative?
Lambert: Before I ran for the board, one of our competitors told me that the cooperative business model was dead. That’s what stirred me into action, to help make sure the cooperative model doesn’t die. I like the local representation we have through a cooperative. I don’t like all my directives coming from an investor group somewhere. In a cooperative like MFA, you know where your money’s going, who’s using it, where it’s being invested and who’s directing those decisions. As farms get larger, it seems like the number of young farmers is decreasing, and we need them to be active in this co-op to help ensure its future viability.

What do you see as some of the most pressing issues that MFA and its members are facing? How can MFA and its board help solve those issues?

Lambert: Employee retention is a big problem that we have out here in the country, and it’s not just something MFA is facing. Another longer-term problem is the aging of farmers and fewer younger producers coming on. The political climate we’re in right now is also concerning with people who don’t know anything about agriculture trying to tell farmers what they can and can’t do. The MFA board and management try to stay on top of these issues and work with groups like the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to make sure our voices are heard.

Your daughters are involved in the family farm. What does that mean to you? How can we encourage the next generation to carry on a farming legacy?

Lambert: My daughters have grown up farming with me, and as adults, they’ve become part of the operation. That means I get to work with my girls every day, which is a blessing. I also have two grandchildren who are coming along and will maybe get to join my daughters as they continue to farm. The farm was transferred to me, and I’m getting old enough to start slowing down, so we’re working on transferring it to the girls. As an industry, we need to make it easier for people to get into production agriculture, especially if they have to start from scratch. I didn’t have to do that. My girls don’t have to do that. Not everyone who wants to be a farmer is fortunate enough to have that situation, though.

What have you learned about MFA as a member of the board of directors that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?
Lambert: I’ve learned just how diverse agriculture is in our trade territory. I’m from northwest Missouri. I didn’t know anything about rice! Before joining the board, it didn’t occur to me how important membership success was to the decisions that are made. If members aren’t successful, the cooperative is not going to be successful. Out here in the country, the MFA home office is sometimes viewed as an out-of-reach place, but since being on the board, I’ve found that it’s just the opposite. Everyone is very personable and interested in what is going on across the trade territory. I’ve also enjoyed interacting with the other directors and MFA employees. We’ve got a pretty good group of guys on the board, and they all bring a unique perspective to the discussions we have and decisions we make. I’m happy to serve and do my part.

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