Leon Hunter: A Passion for Ag and Education
Hunter’s grandfather owned the family farm, in the small town of Whigham in southwest Georgia. His father and two uncles helped operate it, with contributions from the next generation as well. He remembers doing farm work—manual labor—from a young age. “Agriculture was embedded in me,” he says. “Working on the farm was what my cousins and I did, after school and all summer.”
The farm produced some labor-intensive crops: tobacco, peanuts, sugar cane that the family processed into cane syrup, and vegetables, including okra, summer squash and pickling cucumbers. There were pine trees grown for timber and at various times, corn, cotton, cattle, peanuts and hogs as well.
Hunter’s grandfather had built up the farm from 40 acres to several hundred acres through the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Hunter remembers him as an astute, determined farmer and businessman, who earned everyone’s respect with his integrity and strong values.
"There’s no substitute for knowledge. You have to know both your products and your customer, and then be able to make the information relatable to the customer."
“Show Me the Money”
Along with learning about hard work on the farm, Hunter learned about marketing and the payoff for all that hard work. In the summer, the family would make a daily delivery of vegetables to a market in a nearby town. Sometimes, Leon would get to ride along with his grandad, father or uncles.
Usually, they sold the vegetables to a market in Cairo, Georgia, several miles away. But sometimes they’d go 15 miles farther to Thomasville if they could get a better price, perhaps $4 or $5 per bushel better.
“We planted and we harvested, but going to the market completed the cycle,” he says. “It was the ‘show me the money’ piece of it. Letting us come along was a good way to educate us on that.”
A Lifelong Learner and Teacher
Hunter also worked hard in school and was active in FFA, earning a Georgia Planters Degree and, while in college, the American FFA Degree. He attended Fort Valley State University, majoring in agriculture.
Upon graduation, he interviewed for a sales representative position with Ciba-Geigy, a Syngenta legacy company. He’d first become interested in sales in high school, when a rep drove to the farm to talk to one of his uncles about fungicides for peanuts. “It seemed like a neat job,” he says, “although I didn’t really know everything it entailed.”
Hired and placed in a territory in Indiana, he found the job exceeded his expectations. “I had some customers who saw something in me, trusted me and gave me opportunities,” he says. “I was coming from the South, and they took me under their wing and helped me learn Midwestern agriculture.”
After two years, he became a technical service representative, training and educating customers on safe and effective use of crop protection products. His passion for education—learning as well as teaching—became especially important.
“There’s no substitute for knowledge,” he says. “You have to know both your products and your customer, and then be able to make the information relatable to the customer.”
Passing Down Values
He stayed in the role for 22 years and enjoyed working with retailers and farmers. “Most farmers are genuine, sincere people who want to improve their operations and be more efficient,” he says. “They want to be good stewards of the land. Just like my grandad, they want to be able to pass it down to the next generation.”
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While realizing that the people on his team are individuals and need some freedom to do things in their own ways, he also tries to pass along his knowledge and experience to them. This includes an emphasis on basic values he learned from his family.
“I had two strong parents,” he says. “They always told us, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do. Take pride in your name. Practice good ethics. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. And if you say you’re going to do something, do it. Be someone other people can trust.’”
Connie Banks: Syngenta Integrated Account Lead Dedicated to the Industry
Growing up on a farm, Banks’ involvement in ag began at a very young age and still continues today.