Q&A: Shawn Duren, Young Farmer-Turned-Banker
A stereotypical farmer is the embodiment of a hardworking, self-made, overall-wearing man, planting his crops or taking care of livestock. A businessman in a suit, on the other hand, would bring to mind a banker or lawyer. But what happens when those two images converge into one? For Shawn Duren, farmer and financial whiz, merging his two fields was a natural way to combine two things he loves.
Duren grew up on a 200-acre hay and beef-cattle operation, helping his grandfather work the land and tend the cattle. The love for farm life didn’t dissipate as he grew up, and after majoring in agricultural business and economics at the University of Tennessee at Martin, he returned home to farm and work in the financial industry. Duren and his wife, Vanessa, an accountant, are active in promoting the agricultural industry in their jobs and community.
Q: You have an “off-the-farm” job unique for a farmer. How do you correlate them?
A: I’m assistant vice president/loan officer for Community South Bank. I’ve been there for 10 years. It was just a natural merging of two things I love to do. The values I learned from farming gave me the skills and ethics I need in banking. The farmers coming to me for loans are future leaders of our community, and being in this position helps me ensure it survives. My job puts me into contact with non-agricultural people, those three or four generations removed from farm life. They walk into my office and see plaques on my wall [related to] agriculture, which allows me to answer questions about them and steer that into agriculture in general.
Q: What do you think is keeping or hindering young people from farming?
A: The capital it takes for a young person to get started in farming is enormous, and it’s very hard to get everything you need lined up. It takes a lot of financing: You need land, and if it’s not already in your family, it’s really hard to acquire it for a reasonable price. You need a product to sell, be it beef, chickens or row crops. You need monthly income to pay your monthly bills from your loan company, the co-op, the electricity, etc. You need all of that before you even start farming, and then you have to hope your crop doesn’t suffer any catastrophes during the season. And we all know weather plays a major role in how the crops turn out for the year.
However, it’s not all negative; there are opportunities out there to become a producer. If you don’t already have a family farm to start out on, the USDA and the government have loan opportunities out there, and Tennessee has cost-share monies available as well. The Agriculture Enhancement Program in Tennessee has helped in more ways than one, and for producers across the state. I would say the main thing is never get discouraged, there’s always someone out there going through the same thing.
Q: How can we promote agriculture to those outside the industry?
A: The bottom line is we have to tell our story. We have opportunities through social media to tell our story to a considerable audience we couldn’t reach before, and set the record straight about what goes on in farming. Social media gives farmers a chance to tell their story about what they face everyday.
Q: What got you started in farming?
A: My family has a beef operation, and I grew up going out to feed and work on the family farm with my grandfather, who has always been in the industry. Our family has always been in the agricultural and business sectors in the community. I remember as young as four or five going out in the hay fields, to the sale barn, feeding, basically being with my grandfather any spare moment I could when he allowed me to come. And if I wasn’t with him, I was reading any farm magazine he got in the mail.
We have 200 total acres where we raise around 50-60 head of momma cows at all times. We raise pure Angus and a commercial Limousin/Angus cross. We also raise hay, and I help on my uncle’s farm, where we roll between the two farms around 2,500-3,000 rolls a year of Bermuda, clover, fescue and orchard grass. I also help with herd management, make sure the soil samples are consistent and manage the hay for both operations.
Q: Where can people learn about agriculture?
A: Knowledge can come from many places. I know mine came from four major areas, and with the exception of the first one, most people have access to the rest to take advantage of. One of the main places my knowledge came from was growing up in a rural area on a family farm; however, not everyone has that advantage, so that’s where 4-H and FFA programs become so vital. These groups teach young people what agriculture is, why it’s important and gives them the leadership skills necessary to not only excel in their chosen profession, but to help spread the word about the positive aspects of farm life.
College is another excellent chance for people to learn about agriculture. Take an elective, apply for an internship, or major in an agriculture-related field. I know another great opportunity I had was when I interned with the Tennessee Farm Bureau. That opened a lot of doors to promote agriculture across the state and the South. I learned firsthand what the Agriculture in the Classroom program offers teachers and what materials are out there to promote agriculture to all grade levels. This is also where I saw how important the Young Farmers and Ranchers program is to the state of Tennessee and across the nation.
Q: How does the Young Farmers and Ranchers program help?
A: YF&R gives someone right out of high school the chance to be part of the larger agricultural picture. It’s the next step after 4-H or FFA because you’ve already met friends through those programs, and then you go to college or start working and need that continued contact. YF&R really helps you stay connected with issues affecting your life and agriculture across the state and nation. It allows young producers to build leadership abilities and understand what it takes to promote a positive image. It gives me an opportunity to understand production issues I might not face. It allows young producers to be the voice for agriculture on all issues, not just the ones they work in everyday.