Q&A with MFA

This is the third in a 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’re featuring Carlton Spencer, District 4 director from Faucett, Mo., located between Kansas City and St. Joseph. He and his son, Casey, operate a row-crop and beef cattle farm.

When you look at MFA’s values statement, which one means the most to you and why?

Honesty and integrity have to be first. Without them, you can’t have any of the other values, like team spirit or customer partnering. If you’re not honest, the customer’s not going to deal with you. You lie to him one time, he’s not going to be back.

You’re one of the longest-tenured members on the MFA board with a total of 28 years, serving from 1979 to 1995 and then re-elected in 2008. What are some of the most notable changes for MFA since you were first elected?

The bylaws change in 1983 where the board hires the president and chief executive officer was the best move we ever made. Before that, the president was elected at the annual meeting, and it made lenders uneasy because they could have a new person to work with every year. There’s a lot more consistency now. The bylaws change that put in director term limits is also a plus. Without term limits, you can end up with directors who have been on the board for so long that they’re more of a hindrance than a help. New directors bring new ideas and perspectives, and that’s good for the company.

What would you say are some of MFA’s greatest achievements during your time on the board?

MFA has been a leader in introducing new technology and innovations in both livestock and field crop production. We have improved our feeds and developed new corn and soybean varieties. MFA was on the forefront of precision technology, such as grid sampling and variable-rate fertilizing, and that’s been a big plus for our company and the farmer.

As your term ends in 2020, new directors will be coming on board. What advice would you give to those who will lead our cooperative in the future?

Look beyond your local Exchange. You have to make decisions for good of the whole system, and some of those decisions won’t sit well at home. Just about every location needs some upgrades and new equipment, and it all takes money. You just try to divide it up and make everyone happy. The new directors will find out we’ve got a good board and executive team to work with. You may not agree on everything, but you need to be willing to discuss the issue and walk out the door in agreement at the end of the meeting.

October is Co-op Month. Do you think co-ops like MFA are still relevant to farmers today?

I think farmers need MFA just as much as ever—or even more than ever—especially during the past few years. We’ve had some tough times in agriculture. Farmers can be sure MFA has their best interests in mind, whether it’s putting out information to help them farm more efficiently and stay in business or keeping elected officials in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., informed about our needs and problems.

What have you learned about MFA during your tenure as director that you might not have learned without the closer involvement?

MFA is a lot bigger than I ever dreamed it was when I first started. There’s no limit to the amount of money we could spend to update facilities and equipment, and it’s our job as a board to make sure it’s spent in all the right places. Being a director has given me the chance to work with some great people, and I have friends all over the state. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

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