AgFirst announces retirements, restructures management team

COLUMBIA, SC – AgFirst Farm Credit Bank is restructuring its management team as two of its senior vice presidents prepare to retire.

Benjamin F. Blakewood, chief information officer, and Christopher L. Jones, chief credit officer – who, along with three others and an ex-officio member, make up the bank’s Executive Committee – will retire from AgFirst on Dec. 31. The Columbia-based bank, which is part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, is currently conducting a formal search for their replacements.

In response, AgFirst CEO Tim Amerson on Tuesday announced several promotions and a new Senior Management Committee that will change the bank’s management structure.

“Long-term success depends on our organization’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances,” Amerson said. “These organizational changes allow us to fully engage our highly talented pool of employees for optimal success now and in the future.”

Changes as of April 1 include:

  • Charl L. Butler, currently senior vice president and chief financial officer, will become executive vice president and chief operating officer. Stephen Gilbert, who currently serves as a vice president and controller, will take Butler’s place as a senior vice president and chief financial officer.
  • Isvara M.A. Wilson, currently senior vice president and general counsel, will become executive vice president and chief administrative officer. Frances Griggs, who is currently a vice president and assistant general counsel, will become a senior vice president and general counsel.
  • Amerson, Butler and Wilson – along with ex-officio member Dan LaFreniere – will remain as the only members of the bank’s Executive Committee. Blakewood and Jones will continue to serve on the committee until their retirements.
  • A new Senior Management Committee will be formed that will consist of the members of the Executive Committee, as well as the chief financial officer, general counsel, chief information officer, chief credit officer and other leaders responsible for key bank functions.

Amerson wished Blakewood and Jones the best in their retirement.

“Ben and Chris have been an invaluable part of the AgFirst management team. Replacing them will be a formidable challenge,” Amerson said. “We all wish them a happy and peaceful retirement.

“Meanwhile, we believe the changes we are making now will allow AgFirst to continue to thrive.”

Farm Credit, AgFirst celebrate 100 years of service to farming, rural America

COLUMBIA, SC – The Farm Credit System is celebrating 100 years of service to agriculture and rural communities this month. As one of four funding banks in the nationwide system, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank in Columbia has played a vital role in Farm Credit’s past and will be a key player in leading the system into the future.

Farm Credit was formed when President Woodrow Wilson signed the federal Farm Loan Act into law July 17, 1916. Not long after, AgFirst’s predecessor, the Federal Land Bank of Columbia, opened in a new building at 1401 Hampton St., where it stayed for the next 90 years. AgFirst moved into the Bank of America building on Main Street two years ago.

From its modern offices on Main Street, AgFirst provides funding and services to 19 affiliates – referred to as Associations – serving the credit needs of eligible borrowers in 15 Eastern states and Puerto Rico. Two of those Associations – ArborOne Farm Credit, based in Florence, and AgSouth Farm Credit, based in Statesboro, Ga. – provide lending and other financial services to rural homeowners, farmers and agribusinesses in South Carolina.

“AgFirst and all 19 of our affiliated Associations are committed to improving rural America – from the homebuyer purchasing a dream home in the country to the family farmer to the agribusiness,” said Tim Amerson, president and CEO of AgFirst. “We help keep the wheels of agriculture turning by providing capital to farmers and the rural communities on which they depend.”

Over the past 100 years, Farm Credit has helped agriculture weather wars, economic downturns and farming crises. “Through our hard work and adaptability, we have continued to fulfill the mission of making sure there is a consistent source of credit available to agriculture, which in turn underpins a stable, safe and affordable supply of food to feed our nation and the world,” Amerson said. “And we are well positioned to continue fulfilling this vital mission as we head into the next 100 years.”

Cletus Horne

Former Columbia Federal Land Bank president, Horne, dies

COLUMBIA, SC – Cletus Wesley Smith “Clete” Horne, former president of the Federal Land Bank of Columbia and the Federal Intermediate Credit Bank of Columbia, died Friday. He was 91. Horne, who lived in West Columbia, served as president from 1978 until his retirement in 1985. The organizations later merged to become AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, which is based in Columbia.

Horne also was a former member and director of the Columbia Rotary Club. Previously having served as a corporate attorney for Farm Credit, he was a member of the American Bar Association, the S.C. Bar Association and Richland and Lexington Bar Association. His civic affairs included serving a term as director of United Way of the Midlands and as a volunteer worker with the Sister Care organization for which he also did pro bono work.

“AgFirst is saddened by the passing of Mr. Horne,” AgFirst President and CEO Tim Amerson said. “He was an asset to Farm Credit and to the Columbia community.”

Horne was predeceased by his wife, Bonnie Cleo Horne. He is survived by four children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

William Robinson

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank announces results of 2015 Director elections

COLUMBIA, SC – AgFirst Farm Credit Bank has elected William Robinson of St. Matthews, S.C., as its newest Director. He will serve a four-year term, which will expire Dec. 31, 2019.

Directors John Langford of Lakeland, Fla.; Jimmy Norsworthy of Jackson, La.; Ellis Taylor of Roanoke Rapids, N.C.; and Dale Hershey of Manheim, Penn., all were re-elected to the Board for four-year terms. Katherine Pace was re-appointed as an outside director for a four-year term. All of these terms expire on Dec. 31, 2019.

William Robinson

Robinson is a professional engineer in Lexington, S.C., and a third-generation farmer. He has owned and operated Robinson Family Farms, which consists of 40 acres of row crops and 200 acres of timber, for nearly a quarter of a century. He is also involved in a partnership that leases a 100-acre cow and calf farm with 50 head of cattle, as well as 10 acres of coastal Bermuda hay. Robinson retired earlier this year from Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s publicly owned utility. A director with AgSouth Farm Credit since 2011, he currently serves as vice chairman of the Board for that AgFirst Association. He also is a member of the AgFirst Benefits Plan Sponsor Committee and the AgFirst/FCBT Benefits Plan Sponsor Committee. Robinson received both his B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering from Clemson University. He also earned an MBA from Charleston Southern University.

John Langford

Langford started his citrus growing operations in Lakeland, Fla., from scratch, building it up to 150 employees and more than $10 million in sales. He developed 450 acres of citrus prior to citrus greening and operated as a commercial farming contractor for 2,650 additional acres. He also serves as a real estate broker and is a founding director of Community Southern Bank in Lakeland, where he is chairman of the board. Langford is vice chairman of the AgFirst Board. He serves as a director on the Farm Credit of Central Florida Association Board and as a member of the Farm Credit System Audit Committee. Langford received his B.A. in history and accounting from Emory University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

Jimmy Norsworthy

Norsworthy runs a 145-head cow-calf operation in Jackson, La. He also farms a combined 275 acres of commercial hay and 500 acres of hardwood timber. Norsworthy served for nearly 30 years as the mayor of Jackson and was the administrative director for the state of Louisiana. He is a director on the First South Association Board, serves on the board of the Feliciana Farm Bureau and is a member of the Feliciana Forestry Association, the Feliciana Farmers Coop, the American Angus Association and the East Feliciana Cattlemen’s Association. Norsworthy earned a B.S. in vocational agricultural education from Louisiana State University.

Ellis Taylor

Taylor is the owner-operator of Mush Island Farms LLC, a row crop operation in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., and a management team member of Roanoke Cotton Co. LLC, which operates three cotton gins and a cotton bale warehouse. He is chairman of the AgFirst Audit Committee; serves on the AgCarolina Farm Credit Governance Committee as vice chairman, Credit Committee and Corporate Giving Fund; and is a member of the N.C. Farm Bureau, N.C. Peanut Growers Association, Northampton County FSA Committee and Northampton County Voluntary Agricultural District. Taylor received a B.S. in Agronomy, a B.S. in agricultural business management and a Master’s of Economics from N.C. State University.

Dale Hershey

Hershey has been a self-employed farmer since 1981 and is the senior partner in Hershey Brothers Dairy Farm in Manheim, Penn., managing the real estate and cropping enterprises. A fifth-generation farmer, he is a member of the Lancaster County Blue Ribbon Ag Advisory Committee appointed by county commissioners, a member of the Penn Township Ag Security Committee and a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. He serves as a director on the MidAtlantic Association Board and the National Farm Credit Council Board. Hershey attended Eastern Mennonite University and graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in community development and an M.S. in agricultural economics and rural sociology.

Katherine Pace

Pace is a certified public accountant in Orlando, Fla., and principal of Family Business Consulting LLC, which provides financial and strategic planning for closely held businesses. Prior to forming her company, she was a tax partner with KPMG LLP, an audit, tax and advisory service firm, from 1985-2005. Pace is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants and current and past member and director of numerous trade and charitable organizations. She is the Board-designated financial expert and serves as a member of the Board Audit Committee. Ms. Pace obtained her B.S. degree in accounting from Furman University.

Other members of the AgFirst Board are: Jack W. Bentley Jr., Tignall, Ga.; James C. Carter Jr., McDonough, Ga.; Bonnie V. Hancock, Wake Forest, N.C.; Curtis R. Hancock Jr., Fulton, Ky.; Walter C. Hopkins Sr., Lewes, Del.; William K. Jackson, New Salem, Penn.; S. Jerry Layman, Kenton, Ohio; S. Alan Marsh, Madison, Ala.; James L. May, Waynesburg, Ky.; Fred R. Moore Jr., Eden, Md.; Thomas E. Porter, Concord, N.C.; Robert G. Sexton, Vero Beach, Fla.; Robert H. Spiers Jr., Dinwiddie County, Va.; and Michael T. Stone, Rowland, N.C.

Tim Amerson presenting check

Farm Credit donates $100,000 to United Way flood relief

COLUMBIA, SC – The Farm Credit System has donated $100,000 to the United Way of the Midlands’ Flood Disaster Relief Fund to help South Carolina residents affected by catastrophic flooding.

AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, headquartered in Columbia, donated $25,000 to the recovery effort. Its sister banks, Farm Credit Bank of Texas, CoBank and AgriBank, each also donated $25,000.

“Our neighbors and even some of our own employees have been deeply affected by this devastating event,” said Tim Amerson, president and CEO of AgFirst. “We wanted to find a way to help this community that is so near to our hearts move forward as recovery begins. We know the United Way will be able to maximize this donation to provide help where it is needed most.”

Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services. The three other Farm Credit banks throughout the United States each came forward to unite with AgFirst during this time of crisis.

“They did not hesitate to step up and provide relief funding to help this hurting community begin to heal,” Amerson said. “We are proud to be part of a System that is so willing to stand with our community during this time of need.”

As of mid-October, the United Way of the Midlands had raised about $600,000 for flood relief efforts, including the contribution from Farm Credit, President and CEO Mac Bennett said. The money will allow the agency to focus on extending long-term relief to families who are in danger of becoming homeless as they try to deal with the unexpected expenses and possibly lost income due to the natural disaster.

“Our focus will be on financial stability longer term,” Bennett said.