As a 5th generation farm kid, Max Mielke wore Carhartts, not cufflinks. He grew up swathing and bailing hay, driving combines and semi-trucks, and herding cattle on horseback in places that four wheelers just won’t go. When he headed off to college, Max knew that he wanted to prepare for a career in agriculture. He had the knowledge of farming and ranching, but he lacked other skills he would need in an off-the-farm job. That’s when Max discovered Agriculture Future of America (AFA).
AFA is a four-year, extracurricular program that supports college students as they develop the personal and professional skills necessary for non-farm careers in agriculture. “Growing up on a family farm, I wasn’t always exposed to opportunities of wearing a suit and having professional dinners…AFA made it so that those settings aren’t so foreign. I’m more comfortable in diverse opportunities and situations that arise,” he said.
With AFA’s support, Max practiced communication and leadership skills, learned how to network professionally and honed his ability to write a resume, all of which helped him become a relationship manager at AgWest Farm Credit, where he works today.
Farm Credit has been present in Max’s life since he was young. “AgWest has been a big part of allowing our family to buy land and to expand,” he said. As longtime Farm Credit customers, Max remembers his dad taking him down to the local NWFCS office to drop off loan documents and recalls seeing Farm Credit employees at many local community events throughout his childhood. However, it wasn’t until Max attended the career fair at the AFA Leaders Conference that he began to think of Farm Credit as a career. Following the fair, Max began networking with Farm Credit employees when they visited his university, which led to an internship and eventually a job with NWFCS.
Max’s time in AFA, especially his experiences serving in two leadership roles, helped ease his transition into a Farm Credit career. As an AFA student advisory team member, Max was responsible for helping to organize AFA’s Leaders Conference, an event that draws together nearly 1,000 students from across the country to increase their awareness about careers in agriculture. At Farm Credit, Max utilizes similar skills when managing loan cases. “Planning and organizing, those are huge parts of the loan process, always being forward-thinking. That’s something that AFA taught me,” he said. Additionally, Max learned communication skills at AFA that have proved useful at Farm Credit. “When I’m speaking with a farmer or a customer, I believe my ability to communicate clearly has drastically increased because of AFA,” he said.
Aside from transferrable skills, the common thread connecting AFA and Farm Credit is Max’s drive to serve the agriculture industry, a mission he feels is honorable. At AFA, one of his biggest responsibilities was to ensure that his “peers were comfortable and felt included and able to learn and grow with others.” This same sense of empathy is a vital part of building genuine connections with Farm Credit customers as a relationship manager. Max said, “Having that selflessness, really putting others before yourself and seeing where you can help… that translates into conversations with producers, making sure that they feel that I’m a trusted advisor, that they’re able to be real with me and that we’re able to have a candid dialogue.”
Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture, today and tomorrow. And to ensure future generations are prepared and interested, we need to invest in diverse, dynamic, thoughtful young leaders today. That’s why Farm Credit is proud to support AFA, an organization that truly equips future ag leaders with the skills they need to ensure the success of agriculture and rural America for years to come.