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Tennessee Agriculture Leadership Tour participants enriched through learning and building friendship
Story by: Chris Villines 9/30/2019


2019 Tennessee Agriculture Leadership Tour attendees: Amy Beckham, Paul Binkley, Christopher Binkley, Justin Brooks, Faye Coble, Philip Coble, Jason Crawford, Lane Davis, Shannon DeWitt, Jared Franklin, Jason Gibson, Randy Gilliam, Matthew Herndon, Jeff Hill, Johnathon Jackson, Ryan King, Aaron Loy, Eugene McCallie, Brian McKinney, Daniel Menge, Wayne Moss, VeraAnn Myers, Melinda Perkins, Ryan Powell, Jason Robbins, Eddie Rose, Ben Seaton, Chad Shields, Chris Villines, and Bryan Wright.
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When 30 farmers, two University of Tennessee Extension agents, and personnel from the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation (TFBF) and Tennessee Farmers Cooperative gathered at TFC headquarters on Aug. 12 to begin the 2019 Tennessee Agriculture Leadership Tour, the purpose of their upcoming journey was four-fold:

Learn more about businesses impacting their livelihood. Make new friends. Take in the sights during their five-day, 1,500-mile journey across five states. And have fun along the way.

Co-hosted by TFC and TFBF, the newly relaunched event, formerly known as the Leadership Advance Tour, gave participants an up-close glimpse of the work being done in the research, manufacturing, and distribution of products pertinent to agriculture.

“Helping develop agricultural leaders in Tennessee is a priority for us,” said Ryan King, TFC marketing and events coordinator. “Partnering with our friends at Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation helped take the tour to another level.”

Bryan Wright, TFBF member services director, echoed King’s sentiment.

“Agriculture is Tennessee’s No. 1 industry,” he said, “and Tennessee Farm Bureau is proud to partner with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative to make an investment in growing leadership within the Tennessee agriculture community.”

Following a tour of TFC’s LaVergne feed mill, attendees boarded a chartered bus and headed to Bowling Green, Ky., where they stopped at Stockdale’s — the rural lifestyle store developed by TFC as one of its subsidiaries — for lunch and to browse the extensive range of products in the 10,000-square-foot facility.

The group continued on to Shepherdsville, Ky., where they received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gordon Food Service Distribution Center. Gordon operates 12 distribution centers in the U.S. that ship to 32 states.

That evening, Farm Credit Mid-America welcomed the group to its Louisville headquarters for dinner, a brief presentation, and a tour of the facility.

On Tuesday, the group continued its northward progression with a stop at Fair Oaks Farms in northeast Indiana, one of the nation’s leading agritourism destinations. Well-known for its 17,000-acre, 30,000-cow dairy, Fair Oaks has expanded to also include a large-scale hog operation, several interactive exhibits, an onsite hotel, and a farm-to-table restaurant.

“Fair Oaks was really eye-opening for me,” said dairyman Ben Seaton representing Greene Farmers Cooperative. “I admired the efficiency they had in being able to turn a beginning product to an end product like their cheese and ice cream. It was neat to see.”

After Fair Oaks, the group made its way to Chicago. Their adventure in the Windy City started on Tuesday night as they took in a Chicago White Sox baseball game. The following morning, they toured Chicago Heights Steel, where Co-op’s red steel fenceposts are made from recycled rail steel. Wednesday afternoon and evening were focused on enjoying the city’s numerous sightseeing opportunities.

On Thursday morning, the tour headed west to Moline, Ill., for a tour of John Deere’s awe-inspiring world headquarters, where attendees could interact with equipment located right on the display floor.

“Since we run all John Deere equipment, it was great to see all the machinery and learn more about the history of the company,” said Ryan Powell of Christiana, a Rutherford Farmers Cooperative member who grows 2,800 acres of corn and soybeans. “It was one of the highlights of a great week. I met a lot of great folks and got to learn how people make different aspects of ag work.”

Following a dinner and overnight stay in Chesterfield, Mo., Friday morning featured the final tour stop at nearby Bayer Research. Here, the group got an in-depth tour of the facility showcasing the latest achievements in biotech research and product development.

“Going to Bayer was fascinating,” said Shannon DeWitt, a UT Extension agent in Union County. “I enjoyed working with biotechnology when I was a graduate student, so it was exciting to see that kind of technology in action.”

From Bayer, the group headed back toward home, with a stop for lunch at Miss Patti’s 1880 Settlement in Grand Rivers, Ky., along the route.

“It was an insightful trip overall,” said Aaron Loy, a Jefferson Farmers Cooperative member who runs a beef cattle and hog operation in New Market with his father, Bill. “I think sometimes we take some of the technologies or products we use on the farm for granted. The tour put things into perspective for me. We’re all busy, but I think it is good to take some time away especially for something like this.”

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