Retired ag lender reflects on privilege of serving farmers
By Mark Parker
Don Kerley never really left the farm. Sure, he moved away from the home place near the tiny town of Peck on the Sedgwick-Sumner county line to attend Kansas State University.
And after graduation, he did relocate to southeast Kansas to begin a 35-year career with Frontier Farm Credit. But the change in locations never dimmed a sharp farming focus and intense interest in agriculture fostered by growing up on that family farm.
“Agriculture has always fascinated me,” says Kerley who recently retired from Frontier Farm Credit. “I always knew I wanted to remain connected. I don’t think the general public has any idea of what’s behind growing that crop or getting those steers to market. That’s too bad because it really is a great industry.”
Three-and-a-half decades of serving Frontier Farm Credit customers have kept him plugged-in to the challenges and opportunities facing area farmers. And if the job itself wasn’t enough, the avid outdoorsman spends his free time hunting, fishing and going to several state fairs—with windshield time spent checking on the crops.
“I enjoy seeing how the corn and beans are doing in Iowa or South Dakota or wherever we are,” Kerley says. “I like to know what’s going on in agriculture.”
At K-State, Kerley majored in feed science and business finance and in 1978 he joined the staff of Federal Land Bank in Chanute—which ultimately evolved into Frontier Farm Credit—as a loan officer.
“I liked it immediately,” he recalls. “I had the opportunity to work with farmers and spend at least part of my time outdoors and on farms. It was extremely satisfying to help agricultural producers grow their operations.”
Throughout his career, he’s been a witness and a participant in a dynamic, ever-changing industry. But even though farm businesses have evolved, the people who run them remain an enduring constant.
“Farmers are the same,” he says. “They have much more technical savvy and production agriculture is far more sophisticated now, but farmers themselves are still the down-to-earth genuine, honest people they’ve always been.”
And that, Kerley adds, has been a tremendous reward from a long agricultural lending career.
“I’ve always appreciated my relationships with farmers and farm families but it’s not just the customers,” he continues, “it’s also the staff I’ve worked with. They’re great people—they’re dedicated, they’re knowledgeable and I consider myself fortunate to have been part of that team.”
Knowledge, Kerley says, is one of the very most important factors in Frontier Farm Credit’s success. Providing customers with financial expertise that is augmented by practical day-to-day farm insight is what sets the financial institution apart, he says.
And knowledge is something Kerley is known for. Among coworkers, his reputation for accuracy, thoroughness and “getting it right the first time” is both appreciated and admired. He may take some good-natured ribbing for his extreme attention to detail but when a colleague needed a question answered, Kerley was the go-to guy.
That wealth of knowledge also made him a good choice to help new employees learn the business and that’s another part of the job he has enjoyed.
“For the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to help train new people,” Kerley explains. “That’s been very rewarding. There are a lot of details—it can be a complex process—and the better job we as experienced staff members do in transferring our knowledge, the sooner those new people will be an asset to the organization and our customers.”
Beyond making sure that the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted, though, Kerley emphasizes that integrity is critical to serving farmers and ranchers.
“I’ve always been a straight-shooter with the customer,” he says. “We have what we call ‘no surprise’ lending and that’s the way I’ve approached the job. I’ve always told customers what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear and I think most of the time they’ve appreciated that.”
Kerley’s insight into farmers and farming goes back to that family farm near Peck. His folks, Carroll and Lourine Kerley, are still there and this fall Carroll—at the age of 91—will plant another wheat crop.
Their son is proud of those agricultural roots and his fascination with farming is unlikely to fade with his retirement from Frontier Farm Credit. Staying connected to agriculture won’t be difficult for him, though. He and his wife, Linda Lollar, who operates a dental practice in Erie, have a 400-acre farm north of Erie where Don can put his farming fascination into practice.
Whether he’s on a tractor, hunting pheasants in South Dakota or enjoying the draft horse pull at a state fair, Don Kerley will continue to nurture roots that grow deep in the Kansas soil.