TALL educates agriculture leaders to meet present, future challenges

Kevin Proctor has spent many years as an agriculture equipment salesman in Tyler, but participation in the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership gave him a greater appreciation of the complex system needed to produce and move enough food to feed millions.

The Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership, or TALL program is a life-changing experience that molds and connects agricultural advocates from around the state and prepares them as problem solvers for local, state, national and global challenges, Jim Mazurkiewicz, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service leadership program director, College Station, said.

Mazurkiewicz said the mission of TALL is to create a cadre of Texas leaders to help ensure effective understanding and encourage positive action on key issues, theories, policy and economics that will advance the agriculture industry.

TALL educates on agriculture and related industries in today’s complex economic, political and social systems, he said. The two-year program brings participants together eight times at locations around Texas. They attend seminars and meet with government and business leaders to discuss local, state, national and international topics.

Participants are also introduced to international study during the second year of the program when they travel to other countries including Brazil, India, Russia, South America and Germany where they focus on international communications, ecology, government policy, economics, social problems and educational opportunities, he said.

“I see graduates as ambassadors for the agriculture industry,” he said. “They continue to build upon the foundation of the past to address issues of the present and the challenges of the future. TALL graduates have directly impacted agriculture production and policy in Texas and the U.S. Agriculture is bigger than one commodity in one state. It’s global.”

Proctor, TALL XIII Cohort alumni from Tyler, said the course was invaluable to his professional development and network and groomed him for his career with an agriculture chemical company.

“It was so much more than I ever expected,” he said. “I would never have traveled and been able to do and see the things we saw and toured the places and interacted with the people we did without being in that class. The tours gave behind-the-scenes access that is usually only opened for employees. It was an eye-opening experience and really broadened my horizons as to the inner workings of ag industries, the world market and what goes on in other parts of the world.”

Proctor said traveling to New York City introduced him to the complex system needed to move enough food to feed millions of residents. In Brazil, he and his classmates were introduced to modern agricultural operations on vast swaths of land inhibited by the lack of infrastructure to bring those goods to local and global markets.

“It opens your eyes to the challenges people face in other parts of the country and the world,” Proctor said.

Participants are chosen based on resumes and their collective experience in agriculture. Around 400 nominations are made each year, Mazurkiewicz said. From that pool, 60 applicants are reviewed and interviewed by the TALL advisory board. Between 22 and 26 applicants are admitted to the program.

There is no age requirement for participants though they average 39 years old, Mazurkiewicz said. Class members must be active in agriculture production or a business associated with agriculture, including the food and fiber industries.

Mazurkiewicz said it’s important to have applicants with a wide range of experience who can provide expertise to the rest of the class.

There are TALL programs in 45 states and five international programs. The program started in Texas in 1988. The TALL XV Cohort will make 411 graduates of the course.

The program includes 455 hours of intensive training equivalent to a 38-hour course load, more than is required for a master’s degree at accredited universities, said Mazurkiewicz.

Mazurkiewicz said the course blends a variety of personalities and professional backgrounds from bankers, lawyers and lobbyists to farmers, ranchers and other agribusiness people.

“It helps expand their views,” he said. “Whether it’s introducing them to technology or other commodities, how governments around the world operate and policy that affects agriculture from local to global levels, the course opens their view of the world.”

Charles Long, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension center in Overton, said TALL trains leaders in a wide array of agricultural industries so they can “be effective in their chosen profession and develop as leaders for the modern world within their industry.

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“The program makes them effective advocates for ag issues on the local, state, federal and international stage,” he said.

Long said the program is also a networking tool for participants inside and outside their respective fields.

Kenneth Threlkeld, TALL advisory board member, Tyler, said the program is a life-changing experience for alumni.

“I have heard nothing but great things from alumni,” he said. “It is a highly recommended experience that applicants will never regret. You learn so much and meet so many people and make lifelong friends and connections throughout Texas. There aren’t many opportunities or programs like it.”

Threlkeld is a principal fundraiser for the program, which combines donor funding with an endowment used to cover 90 percent of the course cost.

Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr. championed the creation of the program because he saw the need for TALL in Texas, Mazurkiewicz said. The Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership Extension Program Endowment, made in Briscoe’s name, was provided as an investment in the future leaders of agriculture and honors his commitment to agriculture, rural communities and Texas.

Mazurkiewicz said the impact of alumni continues to grow and their shared knowledge will shape the future of agriculture globally.

“Education is the key to progress and communication is the key to peace,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Disproportionate distribution of resources creates conflicts and wars. We have to be prepared to provide food, water, energy and shelter, the basics for a growing global population. This program is designed to create problem solvers to meet those challenges on a global scale.”

Applications for TALL XVI Cohort are being accepted now. Completed applications are due by March 15. Application forms and applicant requirements can be found at https://tall.tamu.edu/tall-xvi/.

For more information about the TALL program, visit http://tall.tamu.edu.