NEAFA Member Profile: Ryan James, NEAFA Board Member and VP at McDowell & Walker Inc.

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For the past 22 years, Ryan James has worked his way up the ranks at McDowell & Walker Inc. (M&W), a feed company based in Afton, NY. James started working with the company at just 14 years old. “I stacked bags, cleaned, and helped out customers coming in for bags of feed,” said James. “I eventually went into mixing and receiving, and then got into doing farm nutrition and sales.” James is currently a Vice President at the company, in charge of the spray and seeding jobs that M&W does for its customers. “I’m a learn as I go kind of guy, I’ve learned most everything about this business on the fly. When we had a forty year veteran retire this past April, I stepped up and took over the seeding and pesticide operations. I don’t think I had gray hair in March, but these last couple of months have put a few there.”

After being in the feed industry for 64 years, M&W’s main focus is on servicing the dairy industry. However they also provide a full crop service for their customers. “We don’t plant or chop corn, but we do fertilizer recommendations, we apply it, and do grass type seedings - if you can make hay out of it, we plant it. We also offer a full spray service for pesticides. We’ve got tall rakes to straddle corn rows. We also do corn and soybean combining. M&W’s main plant is in Afton, NY, with two outlets in Sidney and Delhi, NY. These two locations also sell small engine equipment from Stihl and Simplicity, and incorporates a small engine repair shop.

James joined the NEAFA board 2 years ago, after talking it over with NEAFA Secretary Lon Stephens. “I like that we’re promoting agriculture. It’s good to be aware of changes in the industry, and make sure that rules and regulations are made to reflect the best practices in the industry. “There’s a lot of good people that you work with, and they all want to make sure that they can continue doing what they love. I especially like that NEAFA bridges the gap between the general public and the agricultural industry.”

James has noticed several changes in the industry during the past 22 years. “The biggest change you see is the farm size and number of farms. In our area, the size of the farm has increased significantly, while the number of farms have decreased significantly. But at the same time, I’ve also noticed that more and more people are buying chickens so they don’t need to buy eggs at the store anymore, things like that. It seems there are more hobby farms, with people raising their own pigs, beef , layer chickens, etc., so we’re doing more bagged feed sales versus bulk. We try to make sure that we can take care of those things as well as the dairy these days. You really want to make sure that you’re diverse enough to handle the entire agricultural community - you can’t narrow things down in this economy. And ff you talk to farmers, it used to be that everyone worked on the farm. Now a lot have at least one person working off the farm to help make ends meet. Another thing that has really come into play lately are the new restrictions on things and the amount of safety regulations that come from the new legislation in the state.

For James, working at M&W is still rewarding after 22 years. “It’s rewarding at the end of the day when you finish a job. The farmers know that better than I do. Farming is a thankless job, but I do enjoy working with my customers. I enjoy doing the nutrition work, talking with them, and helping them be successful. We’re not a huge company but we are diverse, and I would like to see the family farm continue on. We can always change and adapt our company to do what we’d need to keep going, but personally, I want to see family farms thrive. We as a company will always do what we can to make sure that happens. I’m happy I got involved with NEAFA. I think it’s a quality group of people with the farmers’ best interests in mind. Working with NEAFA, it’s not a job, it’s an advocation. The people involved with it aren’t here to make money, we’re here to advocate the industry.”