Women have historically played a vital role on the farm and ranch. They are powerful in impacting the agriculture industry as wives, mothers, farmers, herders and more.
In the broad realm of agriculture, there are many roles to play that impact Nebraska as a major player in American agricultural commodities, including that of Kelley Downer. She is a farm credit manager, mother of two and wife of a feedlot owner.
“I’m a big believer in finding something you love to do, that’s what I told my kids,” Downer said. “And I strongly believe that you have to have that experience, because then when you’re there, you can relate to it. You’ve been through it, you know it, it’s like you feel it. I’ve been through there, I know your concerns, I understand.
She used her farming background to fuel her journey in life. Downer has come a long way in agriculture and banking, including agricultural lending before most recently becoming director of agricultural credit at Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff.
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Growing up in a very rural atmosphere northeast of Harrison on a cow-calf operation gave him a first and lasting impression of the Panhandle farming community.
“My mom’s family and my dad’s family were both cow-calf farmers, so it’s innate with us,” Downer said.
She grew up with many memories of attending a one-room school near the family’s cow-calf operations.
“In my opinion, when we were there it was a thriving school,” Downer said. “My children make fun of me because we go riding or cycling (to school). We had so much fun there.
Both of his parents grew up ranching and worked on these family ranches after they got married. Once Downer’s grandparents stopped working on the ranches, his father took over, essentially combining the two family operations.
“When my mother’s parents moved to town, we moved into their house and set up our ranch where my mother grew up. Several years later, my grandfather (paternal grandfather) retired and moved to town, and then the dynamic changed a lot,” she said. “Now, instead of having two grandparents on each side, my dad was the eldest, and he took what he knew and built the operation.”
Downer spoke of his grandparents’ success in creating well-established ranching operations that could be passed down from generation to generation. She attributed it to ingenuity and the will to succeed.
His paternal grandfather immersed himself in quarter horse breeding and found success. He used the resources of this business to build the cattle herd.
“I’m still impressed with that age group and the way they made it work, the variety of things they were thinking about,” she said. “My grandfather brought back an old school building and turned it into a store. It’s just things like that and the quarter horses that they made to run their operations.
The older generation managed tasks like weaning using calendar dates. His father brought more avant-garde thinking to the day-to-day farming operation.
“My dad was adaptable when making decisions and changing things, there are a lot of things you need to consider when building your operation,” Downer said. “You just have to be adaptable and learn.”
As the eldest of three daughters, Downer not only grew up in a rural ranching family, she loved it.
“I have always loved farming. I think when you grow up with it, it’s part of your livelihood. The people, the language, the work ethic, all of that is exactly what you fall in love with,” Downer said.
“If your neighbors are struggling, you’re there with ‘How can I help?'” she said. “That part of the farming community is always good,” Downer said.
After high school in Harrison, she aspired to be a lawyer in her freshman year at Casper College.
After attending the first set of classes, this plan was refocused on a business administration degree. Classes and an internship changed Downer’s mind and set her on a path that would eventually lead her back to farming. She explored all avenues of banking after completing an internship at Community First Bank in Lusk, Wyoming.
She completed two years at Casper and graduated from Chadron State College, landing her first job as a bank teller in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
An impromptu interview at a unique location was arranged by a friend and Downer found herself realizing an opportunity to work in the agricultural industry.
“I had a friend who worked at Farm Credit Services who contacted me… ‘You have to apply for this job, it’s a great company,'” Downer said. “I laugh to this day; we met at Alliance at McDonald’s. I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, coming from a community event and Omaha’s human resources manager is there. There’s nothing professional about it, but then I get a phone call.
She found herself in Rapid City, South Dakota, in a new environment as an account specialist. This position involved preparing loans – researching documents, checking balance sheets, preparing loan documents and more.
Downer’s career plans quickly took a turn when she married Jim Downer, a feedlot owner north of Mitchell. Still under the Farm Credit umbrella, she moved to the Customer Service Coordinator position that was open at the Scottsbluff branch.
It was in this front office position that Downer realized she had a gift and a purpose for helping the client.
“There was a lot of customer interaction, and I really enjoyed that part,” she said. “You need to have conversations and learn more about customers. That has always been the goal for me. How can I help these people succeed, how can I help them succeed in their operations, what do I need to do to connect them with the right person to succeed. »
From front office to account specialist, Downer eventually found herself in the role of agricultural lender.
“(Farm Loan) is really what I enjoyed the most because it’s a lot of one-on-one time,” she said.
Downer found herself on the emotional side of the farming industry, often with difficult conversations.
“It’s a lot of very confidential and very emotional conversations on the financial side,” she said. “For me, that was where it made sense. We find ways to improve the operation through communication to build and create that trust. »
For Downer, she was willing to have those difficult conversations with agricultural producers based on her own background and experience.
“I’m on both sides of the table, I’ve seen the struggles — my husband and I have this feedlot and grew up there,” Downer said. “Over time, these difficult conversations got easier because that was my focus. It’s not easy, sometimes there are things that need to change and modify, and sometimes there are things that we need to just give up.
Along with his background in the agriculture industry, Downer also brought a passion for education. His role was often to educate the client on finances and help them understand things like a tax return and a cash flow statement.
“My second love is the ability to teach. When I get to combine the two in that position, it’s awesome and so exciting,” Downer said. “I now have the ability to watch this team as a whole. . What are we doing well for ourselves, our customers and what can we do better. I just appreciate the willingness to have this conversation.
After a long stint as an agricultural lender, Downer recently made a career change to become an agricultural credit manager. In this role, she can work in a position to fulfill her love of the farming community and teaching.
“When I talk about telling our story in agriculture, we are very humble and caring people. We don’t tell our story and we don’t talk about it very loudly,” Downer said. “If you can create that collaboration and camaraderie, and are willing to have conversations, that makes all the difference.”