Journal of the NACAA
Volume 9, Issue 1 - June, 2016
Guidance for Directors and Leaders of Agricultural Organizations in New Jersey
- Infante-Casella, M., Agricultural Agent/Associate Professor, Rutgers NJ Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension
Schilling, B., Extension Specialist in Agricultural Policy/Associate Professor, Rutgers NJAES
New Jersey is a small state as compared to land mass of other states in the nation, but it has an important and rigorous agricultural industry that ranks among the top 5 states in production of many agricultural commodities. With farmers comprising less than 1 percent of the population in the state, it is important that as many representatives as possible from the agricultural industry take on leadership roles to inform the non-farming community and participate in organizations to influence legislation in favor of agriculture. Two extension faculty realized a need for educating existing and new agricultural leaders and developed a guidance document titled, “Guidance for Directors and Leaders of Agricultural Organizations in New Jersey”, to enhance knowledge of roles and to outline commitments when participating in organizations.
Extension educators have worked with farmers for over a hundred years to improve production and marketing of farm products. Over this period, extension programing developed into much more than growing crops or raising livestock. Indeed, a hallmark of Extension has been its ability to remain relevant by adapting to changing client needs. Today’s agriculturally-focused extension educators often engage in programming that encompasses more holistic views of their clients’ economic viability, agricultural policy and regulations, technology transfer, and emerging issues affecting both producers and consumers in the contemporary food system. In their roles as educational leaders and agents of change, Extension professionals also recognize the importance of cultivating and supporting agricultural leaders to assume roles in farm organizations, as well as their communities (Diem & Powers-Nikola, 2005).
At the same time, care needs to be exercised that Extension personnel, valued for their technical expertise and as purveyors of knowledge, do not themselves become embedded as de facto leaders of agricultural organizations. Chapman (2015) argues that Extension leadership in early stage programming is a common and acceptable, but notes that early leadership interventions by Extension professionals may turn into a “crutch” that impedes “capacity building within the organization and can lead to reduced efficiencies and possible ineffectiveness in accomplishing the mission of the organization.” To avoid such outcomes, Morse, Brown & Warning (2006) advocate a “catalytic leadership” framework wherein Extension educators effectuate processes that develop and empower agricultural leaders.
With this conceptual framing, the authors created an educational guidance document for existing and incoming directors or other leaders of agricultural organizations. Intended as a training and orientation support tool, Guidance for Directors and Leaders of Agricultural Organizations in New Jersey (http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/fs1250/) is being used by Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) personnel and other agricultural service providers to build organizational capacity by facilitating the rise of new agricultural leaders and reinvigorating existing agricultural association leaders.
Vacancies on agricultural boards of directors are often filled through the nomination of persons known by existing board members. A nominee may accept a board appointment due to comfort gained by personal familiarity with other board members, but may lack awareness of the responsibilities and expectations of the position. Guidance for Directors and Leaders of Agricultural Organizations in New Jersey acquaints board prospects or newly appointed directors with the expectations that are attendant with serving as a director or leader of an organization. While variable, common expectations include remaining a member of the organization in good standing, understanding the organizational mission and bylaws, and attending meetings.
Importantly, by assuming an organizational leadership role, an individual is accepting responsibility for strategically planning for and guiding the organization in a manner consistent with its mission. Appointed directors therefore require a willingness and aptitude to, among other things:
• establish mission-relevant planning goals and actionable objectives to sustain and enhance the viability of the organization,
• establish policies and procedures that guide day-to-day operations,
• operate within the by-laws of the organization,
• manage the organization’s finances in a responsible, effective, and ethical manner,
• assist with fundraising,
• remain apprised of issues critical to the organization’s ability to function and advance its mission,
• effectively represent the organization to outside stakeholders or the public, and
• serve on committees or other functional groups (e.g., a fundraising committee, event organizer, marketing committee, etc.) created to ensure the effective operation of the organization.
Some directors may rise to the level of executive leadership on a board. Common roles include President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. In addition, directors may be tasked with chairing standing committees outlined in the by-laws or ad hoc committees created by executive leadership. Directors must be able to commit to the increased levels of responsibility that accompany these leadership roles.
LEADERSHIP ROLES OUTSIDE OF THE BOARD
The interconnected, grassroots nature of New Jersey’s agricultural leadership creates additional responsibilities for agricultural organizations’ directors. Besides attending regular board meetings, directors may need to represent the board and organizational membership as a delegate to other agricultural groups. Appointed delegate(s) needs to be able to represent and possibly vote to advance the organization’s position—independent from personal views—at various meetings, caucuses, or policy conventions.
As a prime example, directors from nearly 100 agricultural organizations select delegates to attend regional caucus meetings and the State Agricultural Convention on an annual basis. Regional caucus meetings result in nominations for the State Board of Agriculture (or SBoA, an 8-member farmer body established by statute in 1887 to establish policy and oversee the state’s department of agriculture) which are voted upon at the annual State Board of Agriculture convention. Prospective SBoA members selected by convention delegates are recommended to the Governor who, with the State Senate, ultimately approves appointments to the Board. Convention delegates also discuss, debate, and adopt policy resolutions and recommendation on issues affecting the industry, and elect farmer-members of the State Fish and Game Council.
USE OF PROGRAMMING
The initial guidance document was written by the authors in 2012 and reviewed by staff at New Jersey Farm Bureau and peers within Rutgers Cooperative Extension. A final version of the guidance document was used in a pilot training session with existing and new directors of the Gloucester County Board of Agriculture (GCBA) in January 2013. The directors of the GCBA are responsible for attending monthly business meetings to keep abreast of and discuss agriculture issues, represent Gloucester County farmers at organization meetings, communicate with legislative officials, sit as delegates at the NJ Agricultural Convention and NJ Farm Bureau Convention, and leadership for agricultural promotion. Following the first training in 2013, directors were surveyed to ascertain the value of this educational tool (see results below). In 2014, 2015 and 2016 new directors of the GCBA were trained using the guidance document before accepting a position on the Board. In December 2015, the guidance document was published as Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet Number FS1250 (http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/fs1250/).
The fact sheet was distributed statewide to all Rutgers Cooperative Extension county agricultural agents and administrative staff at the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES). Since being published in December 2015, the fact sheet has been used by five RCE county agricultural agents to train new directors on county boards of agriculture. An in-service training was conducted in winter 2016 with the Rutgers Agricultural and Resource Management Agents Department to instruct 32 agricultural agents and 11 program associates working with farming organizations in New Jersey on how to utilize the information in the fact sheet with clientele. The majority of agents in attendance anticipated using the training resources with their county boards of agriculture, commodity organizations, and other agricultural leadership groups affiliated with cooperative extension. One county agricultural agent distributed 435 copies of the fact sheet at the annual conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey in 2016 and used the content as curricula to educate organic farmers about becoming active in other organizations. In addition, copies were disseminated in electronic and hard copy formats to:
• The administration of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture,
• Elected members of the New Jersey State Board of Agriculture
• The State Agricultural Development Committee (the state agency legislatively charged with administering the state’s farmland preservation and right to farm programs), and associated county-level agricultural development boards,
• New Jersey Farm Bureau administration, directors and staff,
• 19 County Boards of Agriculture, and
• 165 copies to agricultural leaders and delegates in attendance at the 2016 State Agricultural Convention.
Following the January 2013 training presentation delivered to the Gloucester County Board of Agriculture directors, the lead author conducted a program evaluation survey to gauge the impact and effectiveness of the programming. Of the 18 directors surveyed, 4 were new board members, attending their first GCBA meeting. Four directors had served on the board for one to three years, while four others had served for three to eight years. Six board members were on the board for more than eight years.
All 18 surveyed directors, regardless of their length of service on the board, indicated that the training provided them with a clearer and more thorough understanding of the general role(s) of a director. Further, upon reviewing the duties and responsibilities of a director, all board members reaffirmed their commitment to continued service on the county board of agriculture.
As a result of the training, 78% of directors reported that they “definitely” have a better understanding of how they, as directors on a county board of agriculture, can improve the farming industry. The remaining 22% felt they gained a “somewhat” better understanding of how their board service can effectuate positive change in the industry. The evaluations of program impacts were generally consistent across members with varying lengths of board service. Further, 10 out of 18 (56%) directors reported that the training helped them better understand the types of leadership opportunities available to them as a board member.
All respondents perceived at least some value in assigning a board mentor to new or recently appointed directors. More than half (55%) of directors felt that assigning a mentor would “definitely help” new board members, while the remaining 45% of directors reported that mentoring “may help” new board members.
The lead author, a liaison in attendance at GCBA meetings, noted that the influence of the directors’ training was evident in subsequent meetings. Reflective of the adage “actions speak louder than words,” at the monthly meeting following the training the GCBA president initiated a review and discussion of the organization’s mission statement (a board of director responsibility outlined in the previous month’s training session) to evaluate its alignment with current committee activities and industry needs. This discussion evolved into productive discourse about further cultivation leaders on the board and within the county’s agriculture industry.
Extension personnel can play an important role in training and supporting both existing and emerging agricultural leaders. Echoing a caution issued by Chapman (2015) in an article recently published in this journal, however, it is important that Extension educators embrace their roles as agents of change but do not insert themselves in the leadership of agricultural organizations indefinitely. Rather, it is advisable that Extension professionals engage in capacity building processes that enable and empower individuals in positions of organizational leadership to effectively execute their duties. In this spirit, faculty within Rutgers Cooperative Extension developed guidance materials and are engaged in educational programming to members of the farm community interested in more effectively serving as directors on the boards of various agricultural organizations. This line of programming, we argue is representative of the continued adaptation by Cooperative Extension personnel to meet the evolving needs of our agricultural clientele.
Chapman, C.K. 2015. The Evolving Role of Cooperative Extension in Utah’s Central Bull Performance Test: A Case Study. Journal of the NACAA 8(2). http://www.nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=504. Accessed March 13, 2016.
Diem, K.G. and Powers-Nikola, M. 2005. Evaluating the Impact of a Community Agricultural Leadership Development Program. Journal of Extension 43(6). http://www.joe.org/joe/2005december/rb5p.shtml. Accessed March 13, 2016.
Infante-Casella, M. and Schilling, B. 2015. Guidance for Directors and Leaders of Agricultural Organizations in New Jersey. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1250. http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/fs1250/. Accessed March 12, 2016.
Morse, R.S., Brown, P.W. and Warning, J.E. 2006. Catalytic Leadership: Reconsidering the Nature of Extension's Leadership Role. Journal of Extension 44(2). http://www.joe.org/joe/2006april/a9.php. Access March 14, 2016.