Astatewide training program has launched its second cohort to build on efforts of bolstering Michigan’s pipeline of agribusiness leaders.
Leaders from multiple agriculture sectors in January 2022 launched MI Ag C.O.R.E., a yearlong program that trains agriculture workers in communications, human resources and management. Last year’s program included 16 participants who took part in assessments as well as seven in-person and virtual training sessions. The program concluded in November, while the second class started this month.
MI Ag C.O.R.E. developed from initial conversations among the three women who lead the Michigan Potato Industry Commission, the Michigan Wheat Program and the Michigan Soybean Committee.
“We were talking about: How are we building leaders and recognizing those folks who are at that beginning leadership tier and building that pipeline? And we realized there isn’t anything,” said Kelly Turner, executive director of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission.
Michigan Wheat Program Executive Director Jody Pollok-Newsom and Janna Fritz, the former executive director of the Michigan Soybean Committee, joined Turner in creating the program.
The trio found an urgent need for an agribusiness-specific leadership program.
“We recognized the fact that we’re hitting this time period where one generation is kind of handing the reins over to the younger generation, and a lot of the folks who are stepping into these business roles haven’t been through leadership-type training,” Turner said. “So we really felt the time was right to be able to offer something like this.”
The seven MI Ag C.O.R.E. (Communication, Organization, Relationships and Engagement) training sessions in 2022 covered topics including public speaking, issue advocacy, organization governance and management styles.
“We really looked at the skill sets that folks would need … in order to be successful,” Turner said. “From there, we (created) modules and really put together the pieces of what skills need to be learned in this module to help these folks be successful.”
The program is open to any agribusiness worker in Michigan. Leaders say the widely cast net is intentional.
“If you’re creating a cohort of people who are going to build a relationship, it’s good to have people in different sectors of agriculture,” Turner said. “I think the greater mix we have, the more examples that we can pull from to help these guys use real world stuff to help them understand how to make decisions and how to apply the information in their own organization.”
First graduating class
Last year’s inaugural class graduated in November, and participants are already using new skills in their work.
Ryan Norton, operations manager for Three Rivers-based Walther Farms LLC, a third-generation potato farm with locations across the U.S., said he benefited particularly from the program’s DISC assessment, a leadership exercise that helps leaders tune into their personality style.
“Learning about my leadership style is what I got the most out of it,” Norton said. “It’s how I lead every day, and just to see what my strengths and weaknesses are as a leader definitely helps me manage my team better every day.”
A month after completing MI Ag C.O.R.E., Norton was elected vice chairperson of the Michigan Potato Industry Commission.
Seth Robinson, farm manager for Walther Farms’ central Michigan locations, also completed the Ag C.O.R.E. program in November. Robinson said he benefited from the public speaking training session, and spoke to a crowd of roughly 300 people soon after the training.
“Going through MI Ag C.O.R.E. and that (public speaking) class gave me the confidence to act like I know what I’m talking about and put together something that was meaningful, and to speak to people properly and represent the farm better, just by that one class that we had,” Robinson told MiBiz.
The 2023 program started on Jan. 18 and brings a new group of 16 agribusiness professionals seeking to hone their leadership skills. The programming was slightly modified based on participants’ feedback, and it will also include a meeting with state legislators in Lansing.
Program sponsors include agriculture lender GreenStone Farm Credit Services and Morgan Composting Inc., among others. The program entry fee is $200, and $100 is refunded to participants upon graduation.
“This is going to build leaders on farms and in organizations, but it’s also going to build leaders within the ag industry as a whole,” Turner said. “That benefits the entire industry moving forward.”
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