Learn from Ag’s All Stars.

“The most significant benefit of TEPAP is the opportunity to interact, discuss and question other professionals, both faculty and participants, in an atmosphere that encourages frank and candid exchange.  It offers one a broad, global perspective that is invaluable to those interested in the future of agriculture.”—Craig Yunker, Elba, NY

 

In 1997, Alan Vander Horst knew he was ready “to move my business up to the next level.” What he wasn’t clear on, he says, was exactly how to make that happen. Then, he attended The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers, or TEPAP. “The program was far beyond my wildest expectations,” he says. Not only did it help catapult the level of his management skills, “it changed my mind set,” says Vander Horst, of Stephensville, Tex. “Now I have a totally different level of operation. I think TEPAP was the foundation for all those changes.”

Kip Tom, who attended in the early 1990s, also credits the program for tuning up his management expertise and setting him on the path toward expansion. “It really focuses your attention away from production and more towards management,” he says. “You have to ask yourself what best brings value to the operation? This program really gives you the chance to understand potential.”

Batter up. Think of TEPAP as intensive spring training for and with agriculture’s All Stars, say former participants and faculty members. Whether your business is experiencing a batting slump or you just want to pump up your batting average, TEPAP is a unique opportunity to boost business skills and learn from other top-flight agricultural producers from around the world. The two-year program runs one week each January. Farmers from both units attend during the same week, though classes are tailored to each level.

The program tries to anticipate real-life challenges for all agricultural executives, whether or not they are running a small family business or one of the largest agribusinesses in the nation, says Danny Klinefelter, the Extension Economist at Texas A&M who runs the program. “Some producers may have family business or human resource issues while others may be dealing with legal, marketing or financial challenges,” says Klinefelter. “We try to make sure the program has value to everyone.”

Farmer and former participant Dick Wittman, an Idaho producer, consultant and former lender who is now an instructor for the TEPAP program, says one of the key reasons TEPAP has been so successful is that because both instructors and producers are passionate about agriculture and improving farm businesses.

Most producers, says Wittman, know that they can make improvements in their business. The TEPAP combination of “outstanding faculty and highly motivated farm participants sends a TEPAP participant home with confidence about why and how implementing new strategies will improve their management process,” he says.

TEPAP is held each year at the exclusive Barton Creek resort in Austin, Tex., one of the finest golf experiences in Texas. But fine food and lush surroundings is merely the backdrop. “This is a chance for producers to rub shoulders with the very best operators in their business,” says Dave Kohl, the turbo-charged agricultural economist from Virginia Tech University at Blacksburg, who teaches each year at the program. “One of the best things about TEPAP is the peer experience,” says Kohl. “It is something they just can’t get anywhere else.”

It is also a peer experience that lasts, says Randy Gangwish, a seed corn producer from Shelton, Neb. Gangwish says the continuing educational aspects of the program, which allows producers to meet annually and for further training after they graduate from TEPAP, allowed him to pal up with a group of other TEPAP grads to visit a South American operation this last year. “It was a really unique experience and something that most of us just wouldn’t get to do” outside of exposure to the program, he says.

Boost your odds. An early TEPAP graduate, Vaughn Zacharias, of Kathryn, N.D., used the program to help him completely retool his farm and his business structure, allowing him to develop a unique merged farm unit. Zacharias says the program helped him see where his farm could boost its competitive position in a consolidating industry.  He and two others formed a partnership called Future Vision. “We gained immediate economies of scale and management expertise that we wouldn’t have gained otherwise,” says Zacharias.

The program’s focus on both big-picture competitive positions as well as helping producers get a better handle on marketing and cost structures were key to making the operation stronger, says Zacharias.  It literally set the operation on a growth fast-track.  Adds Zacharias: “It also helped the key team members better recognize where our strengths are.”  In fact, he found the program so valuable that he sent all key employees to TEPAP as well.  And, Zacharias has returned to go through TEPAP again to re-tool skills and take advantage of new faculty. “It is definitely the kind of experience that can change your life,” he says.

Lloyd Holterman, Watertown, Wisc., agrees.  “The program is fantastic, I can’t say enough good things about it.”  When he first attended, he says, their operation was a traditional small Wisconsin dairy.  The Holtermans knew that to maintain and improve their standard of living long-term, it would have to be something more.  Thanks to the two-year course, he says he was able to upgrade their operation to better take advantage of their location and expertise.  Input from instructor Mike Boehlje and other farmers “who were where we needed to be ten years from now meant we were really able to solve a lot of our problems,” says Holterman.  After the second year’s farm estate, business structure and tax sessions by Neal Harl, he says, “we learned exactly the right business structure to take us where we needed to be.”

The sessions, he says, catapulted his management skills and his ability to manage the reinvented dairy operation.  “We are farming at a completely different level,” he says.  “What we got out of TEPAP is not something you can get anywhere else,” he says.  “It is definitely the best money I ever spent.”