News Leading The Way

Leading The Way

Leading The Way
January 30, 2003 |

From her desk at the office of Bragg Farms in Madison County, Jeannie Bragg Harvey steers her family’s seed and row crop business through the rough waters of the modern-day agricultural economy like a seasoned sailor.At just 34, she exudes a quiet confidence that belies her age as she deals with seed brokers, manages inventory, negotiates land leases and tracks the day-to-day movements of 13 employees. She is, by business standards, the chief financial officer of the 5,300-acre farm, which she owns in partnership with her brother, Dennis.So, when the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Young Farmers met to elect a chairman for 2003, it’s not surprising they chose Jeannie. The fact that she is the first female to chair the group did not go unnoticed, but it was her enthusiasm, talent and work ethic that earned her the job. “I’m just tickled that these folks whom I’ve come to love so dearly over the last three years(while serving on the Young Farmers State Committee) saw fit to choose me to lead them,” Jeannie said. “I see this as an opportunity to learn. I think I am very lucky to have the chance to participate in the Federation State Board meetings and see first hand how big business works.”When asked about being the first female Young Farmers chairman, Jeannie said she is humbled by the recognition but added that she doesn’t really feel she is breaking new ground.”Women have always been leaders on the farm,” she said. “I am certainly not the first woman who was qualified to serve in a position like this. But I think it speaks volumes about the men in our organization – that they would be willing to not only work with women in a predominantly male industry, but that they would also choose a female to represent them.”A self-described “worker bee,” Jeannie said she is eager to take on the challenge of helping young farmers become more profitable. While all producers have been hurt by sagging prices and low yields the past few years, she said young farmers have been hit especially hard because they haven’t had time to build a solid financial foundation.Jeannie hopes the Young Farmers Division can help address these challenges by providing more financial management training for farm families. In addition, she plans to emphasize agricultural education and greater political involvement at the grassroots level.Dennis, who serves as chairman of the Madison County Young Farmers, has confidence his big sister/partner will be an asset to the Young Farmers Division. “She and I see each other every day, and I know how hard she works and her capabilities,” Dennis said. “I know the Young Farmers group is enthusiastic and on the cutting edge, and Jeannie definitely falls into that category. She brings to the table a strong understanding of what it takes to run a farm business and what it takes to make the books balance at the end of the year.”A third-generation farmer, Jeannie said both of her grandfathers farmed, but it was Granddaddy “Dennis” Bragg and her father, Allen, who established the farm’s certified seed business after several years of raising everything from cattle to sweet potatoes. Today, Dennis oversees the production and irrigation aspects of the farm while Jeannie handles the business side of the operation.It is a job she’s been training for all her life.”I remember chopping cotton in third grade, and before that, I helped my mother (Barbara) with filing in the office,” Jeannie recalled. “When my handwriting got good enough, she let me write checks, and she would sign them. That was a big deal.”But like most farm kids, Jeannie also remembers jobs that weren’t so fun. One such task was painting a garbage dumpster with a small paintbrush. Regardless of the chore, however, Jeannie said her mother (who taught third grade before Jeannie’s birth) always made sure it included a lesson.”We always had a list of chores to do on Saturday, and in the summer, we helped out around the farm,” Jeannie said. “Dennis would go to the field with Daddy, and I helped Mother in the office. One year, our parents paid us minimum wage. They kept a journal of the family’s living expenses, and at the end of the year, they had us pay them one-fourth of the total. That taught us a lot about managing money.”The Bragg children’s farm education, however, was not limited to financial matters. Their parents also made sure Jeannie and Dennis knew how to communicate with their peers and business associates.”We grew up going to business meetings with our parents,” Jeannie said. “Our family vacations centered around seed meetings. We were expected to be there and know what was going on, and we were expected to meet the people they did business with.”Still, Jeannie wasn’t always sure she would
return to the farm. After graduating from Hazel Green School, she attended Auburn University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders and foreign languages. She later earned her master’s in speech pathology from Vanderbilt University, and she worked in the University Medical Center’s ear, nose and throat department for two years.Jeannie returned to the farm in 1995 with plans of finding a job in the Huntsville area. But as she took on more responsibilities at the farm, she became less inclined to pursue a career in speech pathology. Eventually, she and her brother bought their parents’ interest in the farm operation, and today, the partners operate one of the most innovative farming operations in north Alabama.The Braggs raise about 2,200 acres of cotton, 800 acres of corn, 1,500 acres of wheat and 2,300 acres of soybeans, most of which are double cropped with the wheat.Unlike many Alabama farmers, however, Bragg Farms’ principal grain market is not the livestock sector. Instead, they operate a seed cleaning business and sell wheat and soybean seed to dealers across the Southeast. They produce several Coker varieties of wheat as well as the Alabama Crop Improvement Association’s Jackson variety. Their soybean varieties include Hutcheson and Stonewall. In addition, they grow beans under contract with United Agri Products, and this year, they produced two Roundup Ready varieties for Eagle Seed of Arkansas.The strength of their seed business, however, has not made the young partners complacent. As the farm’s marketing director, Jeannie is always on the lookout for new customers. One of her latest discoveries will result in the farm planting edible soybeans this year for export to Japan. Meanwhile, Dennis continues to receive state and regional recognition for his innovative irrigation systems, which now cover 1,300 acres.Like their father and grandfather, Jeannie and Dennis aren’t content to simply grow their own business. They want to improve agriculture for all farmers. They regularly write letters to lawmakers and offer testimony on important farm issues, and they never miss an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of agriculture. This eagerness to serve has propelled the young partners to positions of leadership within the farming community. In addition to serving as chairman of the Young Farmers, Jeannie also is president of the Alabama Seedmen’s Association. Off the farm, Jeannie and husband Chris(who is a civil engineer with OMI Inc.) are active in the Hazel Green United Methodist Church where she coordinates the Acolytes, a group of student worship helpers. Jeannie also is an instrument-rated airplane pilot, and she has taken the certified crop advisor exam.When asked why she takes on so many challenges and responsibilities, the new Young Farmers chairman quoted her brother.Dennis says, “you get more out of life, the more plugged in you get,” Jeannie said. “There’s more happening than just what we experience here on our farm, and we want to be a part of it. Then, at the end of the day, we can say we helped change things for the better, or at least we tried our hardest.”

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