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Dave Bryden

Growing up in the Charleston, Illinois area, Dave Bryden was not one you’d expect to necessarily pursue a career in agriculture. In fact, neither would he. Nevertheless, as he matured into his professional years, Dave found that life has a funny way of circling back to early formative experiences.

“I had a pretty awesome childhood living out in the country,” Dave recalls. “I literally wore out a BB gun because I shot it so many times. I was outside all the time running around with my dog, exploring the woods. And I was really into sports, if there running or a ball involved, I was doing it. Same for adventurous sports like caving, skiing, skydiving, etc.”

Dave was like many young people growing up in Illinois; he was maybe a city kid in some ways but a country kid at heart. “Better yet, I was a farm kid who wasn’t on the farm.”

Dave was quite a ways from his farming heritage. “My grandfather on my mother’s side was a farmer in Northwest Ohio, farming with horse-drawn implements, but he died when I was very little, so it wasn’t like I was there during summers or on weekends.” Dave wasn’t even a member of his local FFA chapter or 4-H club. So, this made for an interesting turn when Dave picked up a job in high school as a farmhand.

“I got a job on the farm literally next door by country standards, as in half a mile or so down the road. To this day, it’s probably my favorite job I’ve ever had.”

Dave’s neighbor raised hogs and Angus cattle while maintaining a row crop operation. Over the course of just under three years, Dave bucked more bales of hay and built more fence than he’d like to remember, but the variety that came with the job appealed to him.

“It just wasn’t one thing. In addition to baling hay and building fences, I ran equipment, painted, and worked with livestock from time to time. I’m the type that gets bored rather quickly, so I like to have variation in what I do. And that’s the nice thing about working on a farm – there’s always something different to do, and I love that.”

But it wasn’t just the variety that appealed to Dave. The idea of cultivating a strong work ethic in himself was evident even during high school. “The one thing I probably despise the most in life is laziness, and obviously, you can’t work on a farm and be lazy. Those two things just don’t coexist.”

Despite the impact working on the farm had on him, it had absolutely no effect on his degree choice. Dave pursued a degree in mathematics after high school, graduating from Eastern Illinois University in 1985. He worked for a year and then went to the University of Illinois for his Master’s in Business Administration, specializing in marketing.

“I started my career in something completely unrelated. I fell into sales management and marketing and then worked for a title insurance company dealing in land transactions.”

A phone call from someone he knew in high school who was friends with an individual offering an employment opportunity eventually brought Dave back to the agriculture sector. The role called for someone with skills similar to his, so when contacted about it, Dave decided to sit for the interview.

Funny enough, Dave was actually looking to make a change in his career, but on the day following his interview, he reached out to his potential employer, thanked him for the interview, but declined to proceed. “It just didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel like a fit.”

“Nine months later, a different position with them opened. They called again, said they really liked me and asked if I’d come back and interview for this position, so I said sure. I came and interviewed and liked it. I’ve been here ever since.”

When he was hired in 2009, Dave, his wife Denise, and their three kids lived near Chicago where his wife is from. They relocated to the Jerseyville area, putting down roots in the country. In the fourteen years that have passed, Dave’s work with UnCommon Farms (formerly AgriSolutions and the Family Farms Group) has included consultation, training, management, and sales. And, with hindsight being 20/20, he can’t help but notice the connection between his career and his high school job on the farm. “I think of this connection in two ways: It gives me a point of connection with farmers, and it gives me a little bit of credibility when I’m talking with them as I understand what their busy lives are like.”

Though his on-the-farm experience has helped him, Dave points out that it certainly isn’t required to work in the ag field, though it does come in handy. This is a good thing, too, especially for Dave.

“I’m constantly amazed. Back in my day, I thought I knew at least a little bit, but I didn’t know anything,” Dave recalled with a laugh. “Ag is a fast-moving industry, even if some people don’t realize it. There’s just so much to know, and I have so much respect for farmers.”

Indeed, there’s quite an abundance of tasks for growers to manage. Sure, there’s the actual farming-related activities like planting, harvesting, and feeding, but there’s so much more. That’s where folks like Dave come into the picture; people who can help with finances, management, human resources, and strategic planning. “This is probably true for any type of entrepreneur, but when agriculture is concerned, the risks in some ways become so much greater because the dollars needed for things like equipment and land, are different than other types of businesses.” When farmers secure the services of organizations to help them efficiently utilize their resources, people like Dave and his colleagues step in to help strategize and manage those processes.

From a business-focused point-of-view, Dave is a strong advocate for qualities revered in the agricultural sub-culture. “For any person, in any position, and in any industry, I always say you hire an attitude. You can teach them anything else. Additionally, I think attitude and work ethic go hand-in-hand. They might be different, but they certainly go together.” Not only that, but Dave believes that anyone seeking a career in business should be open to the agricultural industry.

“Regardless of what you’re into, there is likely a position for it somewhere in the ag industry. It might be computers and technology, accounting and finance, marketing, sales, or management– I can keep right on going. I encourage any young person to not put blinders on yourself. Just because it’s in the ag industry doesn’t mean you have to know a whole lot about actual farming. In fact, most people in the company I work for don’t have strong ag backgrounds. They’re subject matter experts in their individual fields. They’re just applying that expertise to the ag industry.”

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