Growing Through Service

By Brandelyn Twellman

Born and raised on the family farm in Brashear, Mo., Doug Thomas’ roots have always run deep with a passion for agriculture.

“Growing up, I didn’t know any different,” Thomas said. “Farming is a tradition in our family. My grandad came from northwest Iowa, and now I live on the farm he bought in 1959. I was a crop insurance adjuster for a few years in the ‘80s when times got tough, but agriculture picked back up and I went back to the farm full time.”

Thomas, at left, with members of a 2016 trade delegation from Ecua- dor he hosted on his northeastern Missouri farm in his role as District 2 director for the Missouri Soybean Association.

Today, Thomas is passing that tradition on to the next
generation. His son, Matt, is getting involved in the family operation, Thomas Farms.

“It’s the family farm that my grandad and my dad owned and operated,” he said. “Then, I worked in partnership with my dad, and now, my son has started getting more into it in the last four or five years.”

Sharing his knowledge of and passion for the industry is not a new concept. Thomas and his wife, Becky, served Missouri agriculture on the state Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. He said this started him on a path of agricultural service, advocacy and promotion.

Thomas was then elected to the Missouri Soybean Association (MSA) board of directors in 2005, representing growers in District 2. He served the maximum term of 15 years and held every executive office in the organization. His involvement in MSA allowed him to develop his knowledge of agricultural policy while serving soybean farmers across the state.

“I learned about the policy side of the soybean industry along the way,” Thomas said. “You know what’s right for you and your operation, so you know what’s right for farmers like you back home. I learned more about the policy supporting that while serving on the board.”

Thomas’ 2009 board portrait.

His biggest policy takeaway was the importance of being quick to take action.

“The number one thing I learned is to be proactive,” he said. “Even our defenses against property rights battles and anti-ag legislation were proactive. I always felt like we were fighting the right fight, while also looking toward the future.”

Thomas played an integral role in progressing the Missouri soybean industry throughout his years of service. One of his favorite wins for the Association was growth of the biodiesel industry in Missouri.

“Work on biodiesel was started before I was elected to the board, but continuing support for it and seeing the value that it’s added to our industry has to be one of the top issues that has come along.”

Fighting anti-ag legislation to defend Missouri farmers and developing Missouri Soybeans’ Bay Farm in Columbia were also highlights of his time on the board.

Sitting in the Center for Soy Innovation in Jefferson City, Thomas said its establishment might just take the cake.

“We’re sitting in a building that is the next wave of both the education and legislative processes in Missouri,” he said. “You can do a lot of good things with the resources integrated in this facility.”

Thomas also noted the increase in cooperation he’s seen among Missouri’s agricultural organizations over the years.

“Missouri Farmers Care has organized all of the commodity groups a little better,” he said. “Even if it’s not a Missouri Farmers Care project, I’ve noticed more support and partnerships between the groups because of that coalition. I think each group now spends more time noticing what brings them all together.”

In addition to enacting change in the industry, Thomas has witnessed changes within the board itself throughout his years of service.

“The board has gotten a lot younger,” Thomas laughed. “But, in all seriousness, one of the biggest changes is that we have instituted term limits and are bringing more people onto the board faster. We’re getting to more people in Missouri and getting them involved.”

He said this increases participation on the board itself and in Missouri’s soybean industry as a whole.

“I don’t foresee being off the board and not doing anything. Once people get involved, they usually stay involved.”

The board has also evolved with increasing technology and resources.

“The way we can constantly stay in contact has changed the way we communicate on the board,” Thomas said. “It used to be limited phone calls, but now technology has really changed the way we stay up-to-date with what everyone else is doing.”

Thomas said he encourages anyone who has an interest in agriculture to get involved in some capacity.

“Not everybody is a ‘stand at the mic and shout’ person, but that doesn’t mean you’re not passionate or proactive. Find your spot. You can be the guy in the back and still be passionate. We do need our spokespeople, but not everyone in the industry will play the same role.”

Thomas said he has enjoyed finding his place in the industry and on the board, along with the learning opportunities and company provided throughout his years of service.

“I learned a lot serving on the MSA board. We did a lot of joint meetings with the Merchandising Council board, and there are many great people on both. A lot of people mentored me, and I enjoyed the time I was able to spend learning from them. We also have great Missouri Soybeans staff. They’re very well respected, always welcoming and have made me feel part of the soybean family.”

Doug Thomas and his wife, Becky, (on right) are long-time supporters of the Missouri State Fair and freqently volunteered their time in the soybean booth. During the 2014 Fair, they visited with Missouri Director of Agriculture Richard Fordyce and Senator Roy Blunt.

Looking forward, he believes the future is bright for the MSA board.

“We’ve had a lot of battles, and we’ve lost a few, but we’ve won some really big ones,” Thomas said. “I think this board and the way it operates is on the right track. We’re always trying to fight the good fight.”

One thing he knows for certain – the heart behind decisions made by the farmer leaders serving MSA will remain unchanged.

“You don’t always go to the shed in the morning thinking about how you’re growing the biggest crop in the state for the biggest industry in the state,” Thomas said. “But, I think all our board members could agree that you always think about your family, your neighbors and your friends. Whenever you go to a board meeting and have to make decisions, you’re always thinking about who it affects back home. To me, that’s the point of being on the board.”

Find the entire April issue of Missouri Soybean Farmer here.