FARMER-OWNED COOPERATIVES in the Show-Me State and beyond have a new resource for education and training with the recent hiring of Dr. Keri Jacobs as the MFA Agribusiness Chair in the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
The newly created position was endowed by MFA Incorporated, MFA Oil Co. and the MFA Foundation to promote industry engagement and provide service and support to U.S. agricultural cooperatives.
In this role, Jacobs will also serve as the Graduate Institute of Cooperative Leadership (GICL) Distinguished Fellow, helping to direct the efforts of this global, research-based executive education center based at the university. GICL was created in 1971 to offer advanced learning programs focused on senior management and boards of directors from U.S. and international cooperatives.
“I’m excited about this opportunity to have a positive influence on cooperative successes,” Jacobs said. “My goal is to not only work with directors and managers but also to help educate non-member farmers and consumers about the cooperative model.”
Prior to joining Mizzou on Jan. 4, Jacobs served as associate professor and Extension economist at Iowa State University and the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives Endowed Economics Professor. She received a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1996 and a Ph.D. in economics from North Carolina State University in Raleigh in 2010.
Jacobs grew up on a diversified farm in eastern Iowa, where her family raised row crops, hogs and cattle. She said her agricultural upbringing, combined with her experience in working with cooperatives, have prepared her well for her new role.
“I’m very pro-farmer,” Jacobs said. “I’m a farmer’s daughter. Farmers’ granddaughter. I understand production ag, so I understand its challenges. Focusing on cooperatives keeps me connected to farmers at a different level. The more I learn about co-ops, the more I’m fascinated by the power of this business model.”
Admitting she will be “drinking from a fire hose” as she gets settled into the new job, Jacobs said she intends to spend her first few months in Missouri getting to know the agricultural community and the cooperatives that serve it.
“For me, the best way to learn is to see it, be in it,” Jacobs said. “I plan to make the rounds across the state, just introducing myself, getting to know the people and learning as much as I can. I want stakeholders to understand that I will be a resource they can call on.”
MFA Incorporated, MFA Oil and the MFA Foundation first pledged funds to CAFNR for an agribusiness professorship in 2016. That position was filled by Joe Parcell, director of the university’s Division of Applied Social Sciences. Since then, the MFA Foundation has made additional investments to the endowment to create the MFA Chair position.
“Cooperatives will continue to play a vital role in both agriculture and the rural communities we do business in,” said Ernie Verslues, president and CEO of MFA Incorporated. “The MFA family is proud to establish the MFA Chair and fortunate to have someone the caliber of Keri fill that seat. Her knowledge and experience position her to further advance and strengthen cooperatives in Missouri as well as the rest of the country.”
Along with her position as MFA Chair in Agribusiness, Jacobs will be working alongside GICL’s executive director, Dr. Mike Cook, in developing and conducting the center’s research-oriented programs. Now in its 50th year, GICL provides a forum for exchange of ideas and knowledge in the specialized field of producer-owned-and-controlled firms. Cook, who has led GICL since 1993, has indicated plans to retire in the near future, and Jacobs will be preparing to transition into that role.
“The programs GICL offers are very advanced, so there will be a learning curve for me,” Jacobs said. “At first, I plan to observe Dr. Cook and make connections, attending GICL board meetings and learning what the educational and research needs are. I’m looking forward to working with cooperatives in a way that is very much geared toward applied agricultural economics.”
Jacobs said she will also be intricately involved with the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives, an association of local and regional co-ops representing all kinds of member-owned organizations.
“Initially, I’ll spend time focusing on agricultural economics, but I hope there will be opportunities with other types of cooperatives,” Jacobs said. “Telecommunications and electric cooperatives are an important part of the rural infrastructure, so they are certainly serving farmers and the agricultural system.”
As an industry resource, Jacobs said she can offer expertise in everything from finance and governance to strategic planning and director development. Plus, she brings an objective mindset to the table to help address the issues cooperative leaders face.
“Ultimately, I’ll count myself as a success if boards think to call me when they encounter challenges in navigating their roles,” Jacobs said. “I feel like I can help directors and managers see things from each other’s point of view. I can be that neutral person in the boardroom to offer a different perspective.”
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