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Just one of them

Robert Thompson feels connection to the farmer-owners he represents
Story and photos by Glen Liford 1/21/2022

 

The Thompson’s Lane View Farms is a family operation with, from left, Robert, son, Will, and his wife, McKenzie, and Lyn. The family raises beef cattle with about 25 percent of the herd registered Angus.
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Robert Thompson of Niota is bringing knowledge and experience gained as a fourth-generation farmer and a former commercial lender to his new role as Tennessee Farmers Cooperative (TFC) director representing Zone 3. 


Robert was elected at TFC’s 2021 Annual Meeting held November 29 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.


He says the many changes taking place in agriculture and at TFC with the establishment of the joint venture companies were among the many reasons he felt compelled to seek the position. 


“I think TFC is in a time of transition with the joint ventures,” says Robert. “Times have changed, and we won’t be able to do things like we have in the past. TFC is in really good [financial] shape, and we all want to preserve the farm supply business and the services TFC offers for the next generation.”


The innovative farmer comes by his dedication to Co-op honestly. His dad, Howell, became a member of McMinn Farmers Co-op — one of the forerunners to what is now known as AgCentral Farmers Co-op — when he began farming in the early 1950s. He was serving as president of the Co-op board and signed his son’s own membership certificate when Robert joined the Co-op in 1983. Robert went on to serve on the board of Valley Farmers Co-op and is in his eighth year of service on the AgCentral board, which included terms as secretary and vice president. He just began the first year of a three-year term that will be his last before he rotates off the board. 


“I think you really need to sit on a local Co-op board before you serve on the TFC board,” he says. “The experience gives you understanding of how the locals work and how they depend on TFC to function.”


Robert graduated McMinn County High School and received a associate's degree in agriculture from Hiwassee College in Madisonville and a bachelor’s degree in agriculture with an animal science major from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 


“I always knew I really wanted to come home to farm, but I also knew I had to get a degree,” says Robert. 


Robert went to work for a local bank after graduation and ended up spending 20 years in the financial business while farming on the side. In the banking industry, he saw his share of mergers, consolidations, and buyouts, and learned the importance of careful financial practices and lending rules. 


Robert and his wife, Lyn, still live on the 43-acre farm his great grandfather purchased in 1883. Operating a successful dairy, his great grandfather was able to eventually grow the farm to 480 acres. The original homeplace is still standing on the property.


“Times got a little rough during the Depression, and my grandparents had to sell off 150 acres,” says Robert. “But later, my dad and mom got married, came back to the farm, and bought the original 330 acres from my granddad.”


His parents ran the dairy for around 10 years before going back to teaching school. 


Today, Robert farms around 760 acres with the help of son, Will, who also works off the farm as a mechanical engineer. Will and his wife, McKenzie, live on the farm as well. They call the property Lane View Farms.


“We have around 241 brood cows, and along with calves and our registered Angus bulls, we have 464 head on the farm right now,” says Robert. “About 25 percent of those are registered Angus. We use registered Angus bulls and own a partial interest in the Select Sires bull Deer Valley Optimum, which gives us additional access to some outstanding genetics.”


Robert also does embryo transfer work and recently flushed some 25 grade-1 embryos from Poss Deadwood. 


“We’re excited to see what comes from these embryos,” he says. “Agriculture is changing, just like the Co-op, and we’re definitely not doing things the way we did even 10 years ago.”


Robert says he is grateful for the confidence shown by his fellow farmers by electing him to his new TFC director post.


“I told everyone to contact me if there was anything they wanted to discuss,” he says. “We can always talk, and I will listen. I try to be open minded, and I admit there are things I don’t know. For example, I didn't realize that Tennessee is the last federated co-op in the nation. That's kind of surprising, and we really don't want to take for granted what we've got here.”


 
 
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