A little more than three years ago, Richard Fordyce walked into a meeting with then-Gov. Jay Nixon and thought he was going to offer advice on a list of potential names for the next Missouri director of agriculture. He had had just one conversation with the governor regarding the drought of 2012 prior to this visit. But after the meeting was over, Fordyce called his wife, Renee, and said, "I think I was just in an interview." A short time later in December 2013, Fordyce was named director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
For the past three years, Fordyce immersed himself into his new role. Driving 120,000 miles and visiting all 114 counties during that time, he met with thousands of people, listening to their agriculture stories, promoting the state's agriculture message and building support for an industry that has been a part of his entire life. He poured 50, 60 and often 70 hours per week into his work. So in January, it was difficult to leave a job he loved — director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
"The last three years were the most fulfilling personally and for our family than any period of time in my life," Fordyce says.
His first days
The row-crop and cattle farmer from Bethany will tell you he thought he knew a lot about agriculture and the industry. He had been involved in ag leadership for the past 25 years, whether it was the soybean industry, Missouri Farm Bureau or the soil and water conservation district. Walking into the Agriculture Department building in Jefferson City that first day, he admits thinking there was not much about the industry or its people he didn't know.
"I quickly figured out, I had a whole lot to learn," he says, "a whole lot of sectors I needed to learn about and be a part of — and there were many people I did not know, but became determined to meet."
He started to build coalitions and support for programs from individuals and groups across the state. "People started understanding and appreciating the role of agriculture, and how it is critically important to our state," he says.
While meeting people from across the state, Fordyce was also getting to know his staff. "I had no idea what to expect," he recalls. Soon he found out just how passionate the department's employees were about agriculture. He says it is all about enabling their enthusiasm for the industry to make it thrive.
"I think the morale of the department and people who worked there improved," he says. "We were able to encourage them to utilize their talents and do what they were there to do." And to Fordyce, it resulted in program successes for the agriculture community.
TELLING THE AG STORY: Richard Fordyce never missed an opportunity to share some of his knowledge of growing up on a grain farm with the next generation of consumers. Here he visits with grade school students during 2016's National Ag Week.
One of those programs was the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program (ASAP). "This program allows us to champion the good things Missouri farmers and ranchers are doing on their farm on a daily basis," Fordyce says. "Thousands of farms and ranches are doing the right things when it comes to animal care, soil conservation and soil health." This voluntary verification program allows farmers to show their neighbors and communities their commitment to stewardship and animal health practices.
What Fordyce found was that this type of program offers marketing opportunities, not only domestically but also internationally. "It provides a sustainability certification for markets requesting one," he says.
The Beef Initiative was one that Fordyce thought would bring the Missouri governor's office and General Assembly to an understanding on why there need to be investments made in the beef sector of agriculture. "It showed how [investment] could pay economic dividends to farmers and ranchers, adding value to the state and to rural communities," he says. "It was an economic development project." It was one initiative he could not bring to fruition. "I was proud of the effort our people did in making folks aware of the economic powerhouse we have in the beef industry," he says. He contends the state still needs to look hard at something that can really move the needle in the positive direction for beef producers.
Agriculture advocacy was also paramount during Fordyce's time at the department. Whether it was visiting with people at the St. Louis Science Center, Missouri State Fair attendees or directly with consumers in the My Farm, My Story campaign, he was encouraged by how the department got the message out about the agriculture industry. It is an area he believes the new ag director, Chris Chinn, will also champion.
STILL A FARMER: In addition to being Missouri's director of agriculture, Fordyce was still a farmer. He found it easy to visit with farmers like Jay Fischer of Fischer Farms near Jefferson City. Fischer hosted the director and children from local schools during National Ag Week last year.
With all of the progress made in the department and Missouri's agriculture industry, it made for a tough walk on Jan. 9 as he left his post as director. As he passed by his employees, he recalls thinking that he had done what every crop farmer wishes to do with his own land and leave it better — more healthy, more productive — than when he got it.
"I think our department was viewed in a different light," he says. "We were a part of the conversation, a true partner in many of the decisions that happened in our industry."
Fordyce adds that he finds there is an elevated level of importance on agriculture in the state. "Others view the department as a true advocate for agriculture, producers and the industry," he says. "That is what I felt the best about when I was walking out."
His next chapter
The Harrison County farmer says each day is getting better. After all, Fordyce can don his Carhartt jacket and Muck boots, head back to the farm and stay for the rest of his life. But he admits that after the experience as the agriculture director, it might not be enough. He found he enjoys serving.
"When you have been offered the wonderful gift, the opportunity to be the ag director and be engaged with our industry at such a significant level, I find I need another challenge," he says. "I like to think my experience would be beneficial to the agriculture industry in an advocacy role."
He says he is committed to Chinn and Gov. Eric Grietens, and stands "ready to assist in any way that will help make them successful and the agriculture industry successful." For now, Fordyce is enjoying some time off. "But I will be waiting for the phone to ring for the next adventure."