MPA Alum Takes Over the Family Farm

LovelandPhoto2(SWOP)A group of seasoned farmers sit facing Rebecca Loveland, a recent college grad in her mid-twenties, as she leads their discussion on everything from daily planning to marketing to an upcoming potato audit. Loveland feels inexperienced but plows forward, relying on the leadership skills she developed with her Marriott School training to make decisions and collaborate effectively.

When Loveland earned her MPA in 2014, she didn’t know she would soon be tasked with becoming the acting CEO of her family’s farm in Idaho when her father left to serve as a mission president. But the new direction wasn’t a setback. For Loveland, it’s been a chance to get back to her roots and grow new skills—along with some crops.

While she was at BYU, Loveland worked with Habitat for Humanity and Grantwell, advising nonprofits in gift-giving while developing the leadership and consulting skills she now finds invaluable on the farm. After graduation she spent a couple of months in Israel with nonprofit For Peace before joining Utah Valley University as an internship coordinator. But in October 2014, her father, Kevin Loveland, was called to serve as a mission president in Arkansas for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leaving a five-thousand-acre wheat and potato farm in his daughter’s care for the next three years.

Loveland didn’t feel entirely qualified to take the lead, and the choice to leave her new job and change her life so drastically was difficult. In the end, she and her father decided putting her in charge would be best for the family and the brand, and that her career would reap rewards as well. “I would be putting into practice a lot of the skills I learned in other avenues of my life and just transferring them over to a farming setting,” she says. She’s found busin
ess basics like accounting, marketing, and human resources transplant well.

Farm life is comfortable for Loveland. She had grown up there and had partnered with her father to a limited extent in college. “I knew the workers, I knew the fields, I knew the partners that we sell to,” she says. But taking the lead entailed more than she had anticipated: coordinating harvests, renegotiating land rental prices, consulting with agronomists on how to water the fields—“things that my dad has done for thirty years,” she says—are now her tasks. There are contracts, government regulations, and many other aspects of the business to keep in check.

Loveland’s goal is to run the farm the same way her father always has: with integrity and hard work. And it is a lot of hard work, starting at sunrise and ending hours after sunset, with outcomes and profits dependent on phenomena beyond her control—like weather and unpredictable markets.

For a few months before her father left, he and Loveland “stuck to each other like glue,” she says, as he taught her everything she needed to know to run the farm successfully without him. Now, he consults with her from time to time, leaving the nitty-gritty of running the business to her so he can focus on his duties as mission president.

However, Loveland never feels completely alone on the farm. “It’s the people that make the business run,” she says. “There are so many people helping. At the end of the day, it’s not just me.” She instituted a weekly meeting with the managers and workers, drawing on their expertise while holding her own with the men, twice or more her age, who have become her peers.

When she can get away, Loveland trots one of the family horses around the property to clear her head. She’s not sure what her future holds—she loves farming, but also international and nonprofit work. “You know, there are moments where I think that far in advance and then I remember all the things I need to do that day, and I stop thinking about it,” she laughs. For now, she’s just planting one seed at a time.