As some of you know, I am originally from a small, agricultural-based industrial town in SE Iowa; about an hour and fifteen minute drive from here in Monmouth. I moved away in the late 1980s for graduate school and to “see the world.” Upon moving back to the region in August of 2012, I soon realized that no matter how many places however far off and different I had lived in or visited there was still a lot of this region “in me” that could never be removed or denied. A big part of this is the agricultural-based nature of the region and a big part of that is “the farmer”; who they are, what they stand for, what they do and how they do it.
This realization of the centrality of the farmer to this region—and how it is a part of me—really hit me hard shortly after my return when watching the Super Bowl and seeing the unconventional Dodge Ram Truck advertisement—featuring the iconic voice of the late Paul Harvey—at the link below.
I thought of this stunning, still resonate ad before, during, and after our guest speaker presentation this past Tuesday by 1976 Monmouth College graduate Paul Rickey (who farms roughly 1,000 mostly family-owned acres near Monmouth). Farmers are—as expressed by Paul Harvey and as exemplified by Paul Rickey—anything but ordinary people. They do and endure things most people find unthinkable. They are also—from the perspective of this class and on top of everything else they are— entrepreneurs managing businesses in an increasingly complex and risky market environment.
Enough from me… I turn things over to Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Steven May to tell you—to quote Paul Harvey—“the rest of the story” on Paul Rickey and the Farmer as Entrepreneur.
Our guest speaker for this past Tuesday is, a man that’s already taken the journey all of the students in the classroom are now facing and that’s graduated from Monmouth College. An Alum of Monmouth College, Paul Rickey ‘76 gave the class great wisdom and knowledge about his life and key lesson he learned throughout his journey.
Mr. Rickey shared with us his knowledge about the world we live in and how it’s changing rapidly in front of our eyes. Growing up in Seaton, IL, his family’s legacy has always been farming and he was next to carry the torch. Mr. Rickey stated “all I’ve ever want to do is follow my parents footsteps” and he has done so with a few new innovative techniques. Mr. Rickey’s family business is dealing with row cropping in the agricultural profession. The family farm was started in 1847, and to him and his friends they now call it the “legacy farm”, being that the farm has been through five generations. Mr. Rickey manages 942 acres of farm land, mostly owned by his mother. In the early stages of his farming career Mr. Rickey remembers driving a tractor at eleven years old, which is outstanding because many people don’t learn how to drive a car until their in their late teens.
After graduating from Monmouth College with a degree in Business, Mr. Rickey had no doubt in his mind what he’d be doing for the rest of his career. Having the necessary skills and knowledge, Paul Rickey turned his family’s farm into an entrepreneurial business. Mr. Rickey stated “back in the day, less than half the farmers had a college degree and many farmers saw no use for a college degree”. He describes himself as “stubborn and cheap” and those are the same qualities that helped in excel in the farming business. In his teachings, he touched on the importance of being efficient, by keeping total cost down, but still being more and more effective in what he does. As his business grew, his techniques had to change. One of the things that he had to drop from his business was livestock, due to the added responsibilities of constantly having to care for the animals.
One of the main things that surprised me about Paul Rickey was his ability to use technology to his advantage. With the new integration of GPS, which operates his combine without a driver, he was able to operate at a cheaper cost and get more accomplished. Before today’s class meeting I never knew technology of this kind existed. This is one of the many techniques Paul has used to innovate the farming process and in doing so he has expanded the bushel amount produced on his farm to great lengths. With expanding the bushel count on his family’s farm he has also managed to double the yield rate on the farm in his lifetime, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. Although he has done many revolutionary things with his family’s farm he still has one goal and that one goal is “being able to carry a chainsaw in ten years”. I think this exemplifies how hard-working he is and how he is always thinking about being as efficient as possible by doing all he can by himself.
While speaking to the class Paul Rickey gave us many pieces of advice that will help each and every student accomplish their goals. The two that stuck out were, “show up on time and be ready to play”. These two stuck out to me because I pride myself on showing up early and facing the challenges that the day brings. Throughout his career Paul Rickey has faced many challenges but the one he spoke about was the flooding of 161 acres. The flood took him four years to recover from, but because of his organization and managing skills, he was able to eventually weather the storm by applying for and receiving assistance from the government.
Paul Rickey’s visit to class was inspiring and motivational. His intelligence and creative thinking helped him carry the torch of his family’s farm and help the business rise to a level no one in his family has ever seen before. On behalf of the class, I would like to thank you for today’s teaching.