By Rhonda Werner
Passion. It’s the one word that people in agriculture use again and again. They have a passion for the industry, a passion for the people and just love what they do.
My article in the last edition of “Ag Families” discussed the steady rise in demand for people with degrees in agriculture and highlighted the various directions those degrees can take a career in the industry. In this edition, two Kentucky professionals share some of their experiences in the agriculture field and what makes it so special to them.
Jarrod Bennett is a partner in Western Kentucky Crop Insurance based in Pembroke, where he and his mother, Nona, own and manage the business. He joined the insurance business in 2000 after graduating from Murray State University.
Bennett, 38, was born into agriculture as his family farmed in Christian County. For Bennett, the industry was just something he was always involved in, and he knew from an early age it was the path he wanted to focus his career.
Crop insurance is, at its most basic, a risk-management tool, and obtaining crop insurance helps minimize the risk for farmers and the financial institutions that lend farmers their working capital.
Weather is one of the biggest risk factors farmers face every season, and crop insurance provides a safety net for the years where yields are negatively affected by unpredictable factors.
“Helping the farmers” was Bennett’s quick response to what he enjoyed most about his job. He also likes working closely with farmers and knowing the intimate details of their operation to better equip them with tools to be as successful as possible.
“Your customers become your family,” he said.
Agriculture is a tight-knit community, and it’s evident that Bennett’s passion for the industry and his customers is a big reason he’s been able to grow the family business.
For Sheldon McKinney, her passion for ag started in a similar way. McKinney, 29, grew up with both sets of her grandparents farming, and while in high school, she participated in FFA and enrolled in agriculture classes. That’s what really sealed her interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.
She and her husband, Bradley, moved back to eastern Kentucky where she is from, but for several years, they were based out of Todd County where Bradley was an agriculture teacher. Sheldon is the executive director of the Kentucky FFA Foundation, where she works with businesses and individuals to raise money for the program.
Her favorite part of the job is meeting and working with people whose lives have been impacted by agriculture, and typically, that is through FFA.
“Fundraising is a relationship business,” she said. “Recently, I’ve been working with an individual who was the state FFA president over 60 years ago. He wants to continue to help make an impact for young people who are interested in agriculture.”
The National FFA Organization has touched the lives of many of today’s agriculture professionals and continues to be an important advocate for the industry. By working to raise money for the Kentucky FFA, Sheldon plays an important role in the future of its advocacy effort.
Both Bennett and McKinney offered advice for young people considering agriculture as a career.
McKinney remembers working as an
intern in a role she thought would never have any impact on her long-term career. She had the opportunity of “stuffing name badges,” as she recalled, for
former Executive Director of the FFA Foundation Billy Ray Smith, who was also the former secretary of agriculture for Kentucky. Little did she know that even as an intern, doing fairly menial tasks, her professionalism and personality made a long-term impact.
Several years down the road, Smith was set to retire, and they immediately turned to McKinney to fill his role. For that reason, she recommends always trying your best and never thinking a duty is below you because you never know who may be watching.
“Continue to try new things,” McKinney said. “So many things will lead you into places you would have never thought possible.”
Bennett’s advice was to stay true to your roots and remain humble.
“As success comes to you, it’s easy to let your ego get out of control,” he said. In the agriculture industry, ego isn’t something most tolerate. He also said treat others well and that will take you far.
On the subject of education, Bennett said a college degree is often required for many jobs today, but make the most of any situation where you can gain experience.
“An education gets you an interview, but it’s experience that lands you the job,” he said. “You’ve got to want it and work for it; no one is going to hand it to you.”
For McKinney, the study abroad opportunities she pursued were some of her most valuable experiences. Her advice is don’t be afraid to try something new.
“It really opened my eyes to see new places and new things,” she said.
In talking with both of these professionals, the resounding takeaway is that agriculture is more than just a career; it’s a lifestyle and it’s a passion.