TALL Program

by Kelley Sullivan

Here is your question of the day:  How can you put farmers, ranchers, horticulturists, regulatory agencies, scientists, bankers and attorneys in one room and expect peace and harmony?  This may seem impossible but Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service offers such a forum in TALL – Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership – and I am a proud member of the 13th class being held over the next two years.

TALL XIII Class Photo

TALL XIII Class Photo

My name is Kelley Sullivan and my family has been in beef cattle production for over 100 years, primarily along the Coastal Bend of Texas.  I am a sixth-generation Galvestonian and grew up “down the island”, where cattle grazed in the salt grass during the winter months.  My PawPaw, John R.A. Sullivan, ran the backgrounding yards for Lykes Bros., the Hutchings and other wealthy families on the island.  He would drive the cattle along the beachfront into town and turn them north through the heavy residential areas of the city.  They eventually arrived at the Galveston Wharves and loaded onto cattle boats, bound for Haiti and Cuba.  My father, Gerald Sullivan and Uncle John still tell stories about their father but, as the oldest grandchild, I was lucky enough to spend my earliest years with PawPaw and Nana and develop my love for the cattle business.  Like most little girls, I also love horses and still find my greatest peace in the saddle.

Our family now owns Santa Rosa Ranch, a seedstock and cow/calf producer of Brangus, Angus and Ultrablack Cattle.  We are based in Navasota and Crockett, Texas and, under the expert oversight of General Manager Kent Smith, have developed a breeding program where we feel we are “Making the Best Breed Better”!  Considering that I spent my youth with PawPaw before he passed away, I am honored to continue the proud legacy that our family has developed over so many years.

I was introduced to TALL several years ago through Dr. Charles Looney, a graduate of TALL X and came to admire the initiatives of the program.  During the early 1980′s, the Texas Agricultural Extension Service had pondered the need for a new kind of adult leadership program, similar to those underway in a number of states. Through years of development and garnering support from industry leaders, TALL welcomed the first class in 1987.  The TALL Mission Statement reads “TALL will create a cadre of Texas leaders to help ensure effective understanding and encourage positive action on key issues, theories, policy and economics that will advance the agriculture industry.”  For Agriculture to remain dynamic, well informed leaders must emerge. The Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership (TALL) program prepares men and women, dedicated to agriculture, for the leadership challenges ahead.

Following my graduation from Texas A&M University, I enjoyed a career in marketing and real estate development in the Houston/Galveston area but I was drawn to my agricultural roots.  I decided to become a student once again and entered the TCU Ranch Management Program in Fall 2011 because I wanted to dedicate myself to an industry that had given my family such great opportunities.  This intensive nine-month program at TCU teaches our future producers how to assign a dollar figure to every production decision that is made – I compare it to an MBA in Resource Management and Production.  Through the program, I developed some wonderful friendships and was honored and humbled to be nominated to TALL by Amanda Dyer (Texas A&M Class of ’03, TCU Ranch Management Class of ’09 and TALL XII graduate).  Additionally, I received letters of support from the Director of the TCU Ranch Management Program, Kerry Cornelius (TALL VIII) and Missy Bonds (TCU Ranch Management Class of ’03 and TALL XI graduate). TALL gives producers the opportunity to understand all segments of this industry and the impact that the global climate has on our ability to feed the world.  Through my experiences thus far, I can say that the future for Agriculture is very bright – I have met some wonderful young producers and their dedication and commitment to this industry will ensure great success in the future.

 

TALL – at a glance

 

Following an application and interview process, TALL features 25-30 men and women who make a two-year commitment to participate in the program.  Participants come from all segments of the industry and include farmers, ranchers, bankers, regulatory agents, attorneys, horticulturists and association executives.  The “curriculum” is designed with the intent to make each participant have a greater awareness of the complex economic, political and social systems that affect Agriculture and develop an appreciation for how Agriculture must interact with society as a whole.

 

Eight seminars are held during the two year program which enhances the participants’ knowledge and understanding of key subjects that affect our current agricultural leaders.  These seminars are held in different areas around Texas as well as destinations in California, Washington DC and New York.  However, the goal of the program is to emphasize the impact that Agriculture has on the global economy; therefore, the second year of the program focuses upon a certain foreign country or region and the opportunities that exist for producers.  Our class is excited to have Brazil as our international focus, particularly during a time when this country will have a significant impact on domestic production.

 

TALL – Session 1

 

Our introductory seminar was held in College Station and, as an Aggie, it is always good to return to the Motherland!  I am excited about our group because everyone offers a different perspective –we even have a vegetarian!  However, when you consider production agriculture as a whole, we must consider the cultures and habits of all global populations so I am excited to learn more from this gentleman…except I already explained that a vegetarian diet is not in my future!

 

During each seminar, we enjoy on-site tours and studies of agriculturally-related businesses and industries while discovering the procedures and problems in production, marketing and financing.  Session 1 featured visits to places such as the Texas Forest Service, Blue Bell Creameries, Brazos Valley Recycling, ABC Equipment Company, Wiggins Watermelons, Ellison’s Greenhouse and the George Bush Library.  We also had speakers from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Agriculture Division, Texas Veterinary Diagnostic Medical Laboratory and two retired military officers who spoke of the global challenges we all face as the world population increases to 9 Billion by 2050.  Each presentation was fascinating and showed the global reach and effect that Agriculture has on the world.

 

The most interesting experience was a mock press conference that we did with the Agricultural Communications Program at Texas A&M.  We were divided into groups and given a topic with 2 minutes to prepare an opening statement and talking points to use with these members of the “press” (actually, they were Ag Communication students who should get an acting award for their performances!).  These topics covered current issues in Agriculture and some participants were not familiar with some of the issues because they were “outside of their industry segment”.  But, what it exemplified was that, as agriculturalists, we are obligated to stay aware of what is happening in our industry, regardless of whether or not it affects our area of interest.  We are all in this together and we need to be Advocates for Agriculture!  So, it brought home the point that we need to stay constantly aware of everything that can potentially affect our ability to feed our neighbors.

What’s next for Session 2?

The Ear has asked for me to chronicle my TALL experience over the next two years so stay tuned for more experiences!  Our next stop will be the Texas Panhandle in October.  We will be starting in Lubbock and end up in Amarillo as we visit various farming and feedlot operations.

To learn more about TALL, log on to http://tall.tamu.edu/ or contact the program at (979)845-1554.  If you would like to ask questions about my participation in TALL or as a student at TCU Ranch Management, please feel free to contact me at Kelley@srrtexas.com.

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