Development Direction

Ten adults, including 3 women and 7 men, stand smiling in front of a Mississippi Farmers’ Market banner.

Participants in Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program include, from left, Dr. Laura Greenhaw, program instructor and MSU assistant professor; Noble Guedon of Natchez; Josh Miller of Yazoo City; Christian Good of Macon; William White of Starkville; Brett McCool of Bailey; Amanda Hudson of Wiggins; Will Smythe of Leland; Sean Boe of Moselle; and Paige Manning, director of marketing and public relations for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

Local Support for Emerging Leaders: First South Farm Credit Boosts TCALP

Story by Keri Collins Lewis  • Photos by Kevin Hudson

Cooperation. Commitment. Grassroots leadership. These shared values unite First South Farm Credit and the Mississippi State University Extension Service in their shared mission to serve Mississippi’s agricultural community. So when the opportunity arose to support the fledgling Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program (TCALP), First South CEO and MSU agricultural economics graduate John Barnard (Class of 1981) jumped at the chance.

“This program fulfills a vital role bringing forth this new generation of ag leaders,” Barnard said. “Agriculture is a constantly changing environment, and the technology is much more involved. The leadership roles these young people will have to assume in order to carry Mississippi’s industry forward are critically important." 

"This program provides a platform for Extension and the ag community as a whole to help these young people drive agriculture forward and add value to it in our state.”

John Barnard, First South CEO

TCALP is an educational program conducted through nine seminars over the course of nearly 2 years. In addition to rigorous coursework, participants travel throughout Mississippi and the U.S. to increase their understanding of agricultural production and agribusiness and to establish dynamic networking relationships. Participants enhance their understanding of entrepreneurship, agribusiness, leadership theory, public policy, and global markets.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation partnered with Extension to launch the inaugural TCALP program in 2017. Dr. Laura Greenhaw, assistant Extension professor in the MSU School of Human Sciences, coordinates the program.

First South’s long-term authority dates back to 1916, just 2 years after Extension started. As a cooperative lending institution that serves members in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, First South is part of a national farm-credit system, but it retains local control with an emphasis on financing and serving production agriculture, long-term land loans, and agribusiness loans.

Barnard reflects on the enduring contributions MSU has made to the state’s agricultural sector.

“From my time as a student at MSU and throughout my 36 years working in agricultural finance, I’ve seen the key role MSU has played in ag in Mississippi. They are a huge resource to ag businesses and the ag community. We value many people there, including (MSU agricultural economics department head) Dr. Keith Coble, who was an integral part of the last farm bill. Extension has worked to make sure we, and our stockholders, understand farm policy.”

7 men, standing, listen to a woman wearing black and standing in front of a “Local Beef” refrigerator
Paige Manning (right), director of marketing and public relations for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, met with agricultural professionals participating in the Thad Cochran Agricultural Leadership Program. From left are Noble Guedon of Natchez; Josh Miller of Yazoo City; William White of Starkville; Will Smythe of Leland; Christian Good of Macon; Sean Boe of Moselle; and Brett McCool of Bailey.

Longstanding respect also motivated First South’s contribution to TCALP.

“We wanted to be part of the ag leadership program because of our relationship with MSU, our confidence in the support MSU has for agriculture, and our admiration for (former) Senator Thad Cochran’s leadership here in Mississippi and in the U.S.,” adds Sells Newman, senior vice president of legislative affairs and public relations. “We wanted to show our confidence in what MSU does overall for agriculture and give them kudos for taking this step forward.”

Rodney Brantley (MSU Class of 1986 in agricultural economics), division president for Mississippi, began serving on the TCALP advisory council in January 2018.

“I look forward to working with the young people who have committed to this intensive program, knowing they are the future leaders in the state,” Brantley comments. “We have an aging group of farmers, and it’s exciting to see who is stepping up to take their place.”

MSU Foundation Assistant Director of Development Will Staggers said TCALP is both filling a need and providing an important opportunity for collaboration.

“Other states have had this type of program for years,” he explains. “Extension and its partners are bringing young leaders to the table; discussing local, state, regional, national, and international issues; and being proactive in identifying emerging problems to help solve them. Extension is bringing people together to build a brighter future for Mississippi.”

Staggers emphasizes that financial support for this program is an essential part of its success.

“We are grateful First South Farm Credit stepped forward when they did and feel they are setting the tone for the rest of our advisory council,” he says.

To learn more about opportunities to support TCALP and other Extension programs, contact Staggers at 662-325-2837 or

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