Navigating A Risky Business With Smart Management

Folks in north central Iowa know Kelvin Leibold and trust he has their best interest at heart. As their ISU Extension and Outreach farm management specialist for the past 25 years, he has helped educate landowners at farm leasing meetings and in one-on-one conversations; pork producers on manure management plans; farm producers with each new farm bill; and over 5,000 John Deere employees about farming.

Some say Leibold (’77 ag education, ’87 MS) has an inquisitive nature and
a passion for agriculture that’s infectious, especially combined with his ability to relate to Iowa farmers.

“There is no doubt that our business relationship with Kelvin has added to our bottom line,” says Jenny Thomas, Humboldt County farmer. “Back in the ’80s he walked us through risk analyses before we made some tough decisions.”

Those decisions created the foundation for their family farming business to expand on; today Jenny is the primary operator. She credits support networks established through Leibold for her self- confidence in making difficult decisions.

“His Women’s Grain Marketing Club’s regular meetings keep me focused on this important component of my business,” says Thomas. “Not only do I have a broader perspective of the factors affecting prices, but I get to meet other women who are making the grain marketing decisions for their family.”

Since Leibold started with extension in 1987, farming and educational technology have changed. There is more data avail- able to farmers, and the dollars farmers manage are much greater. But, Leibold says, one thing remains the same. “When I sit down with a farm family, whether the situation is a startup, a retirement
or bringing in another generation, it’s still all about managing the risks associated with running a family business.”

Such was the case when Dave and Annette Sweeney returned to Iowa and her family farm near Radcliffe in the ’80s. “He knows the best possible scenario for people isn’t always the one they want to hear, but he has the ability to remove the emotion from the situation and make it about the business decision,” Sweeney says.
His clients—farmers, lenders, land owners and ag businesses—get information faster and more frequently, making them more sophisticated in their decision making says Leibold. He’s appreciative of his clients’ vast knowledge and interests and doesn’t hesitate to involve them beyond the typical farm management meeting.

Clients say Leibold’s contributions to the ag community go beyond programming, analyses and facilitating conversations. It’s more personal than that. He takes time to get to know them and their interests, and he knows when he has new information they’d like to have.

That was the case when he approached Annette Sweeney with the Annie’s Project curriculum before the national farm women’s education program was introduced in Iowa. He knew Sweeney’s experiences made her a good candidate to review the program content and its application with women in Iowa.

Leibold’s international work and how he transfers knowledge illustrates the ripple effect of his contributions, in Iowa and as far away as Nigeria.

Jenny Thomas says hearing Leibold talk of his work in Nigeria inspired her to volunteer for the Women in Agriculture project in Uganda, coordinated in part by ISU Extension and Outreach. She recently returned from her second trip to Africa saying the project has empowered Ugandan women farmers to better provide for their families and be bolder business women.

Matt Siefker, an Eagle Grove farmer, says he goes to all of Leibold’s meetings because, “He’s a good person to learn from. He’s been out and about in Africa, Asia and South America. I enjoy hearing what he has to talk about.”

When hosting Nigerian and Ukrainian farmers, Leibold sets up tours of Siefker’s farm so the young Iowa farmer can connect with farmers from those regions.

“I think the more information I can share with Iowa farmers about what is going on the better. Whether it’s about the global food markets and bio-fuels, legislation on environmental issues or potential impacts of carbon sequestration and the carbon footprint of our agriculture compared to the rest of the world—it makes them more knowledgeable and competitive in world markets,” says Leibold