said large farming operations are becoming fewer with time, resulting in
small farms "and it’s our job to help meet the needs of those
are popping up everywhere in Alabama and the people who run them don’t
always have much of an agricultural background," he said.
"That’s one reason we work hard with our students to help
way to do just that is through cooperative stores who provide advice as
well as supplies.
stores are changing as rapidly as Alabama’s farming landscape, said
Fields, who is the father of three young sons.
are moving more and more into retail business operations," he said.
"Our Co-op stores are handling a much more diverse clientele and
that’s why they are offering clothing, pet and fishing supplies as
well as feed and fertilizer these days."
Fields was growing up in Winnsboro, LA, members of his family depended
on each other to keep the farm going and turn a profit at the end of the
at first considered a career in animal science, but eventually switched
to the business end of farming, especially after his successful start
with the $3,000 loan at the age of 14.
came to the realization I didn’t care as much about what was inside an
animal quite as much as the business that made it all possible," he
said. "I wanted to make as much money as I could to keep our herd
going and growing."
six heifers delivered four potential show steers and it wasn’t long
before the herd grew back to where it once was.
$3,000 youth loan was split into three annual payments of $1,000. He had
no problem coming up with the first $1,000 and by the end of the second
year, had enough money to retire the loan completely.
had a champion bull in our new herd and one of the calves he helped
produce brought $3,000," said Fields, with a smile. "So, I had
made enough to pay off the loan and still have $1,000 left over."
he was old enough to vote, Fields had enough experience to keep tabs on
his family’s entire farm operation. He could scan a profit and loss
statement with the best of them and his records were clear and to the
important to make sense out of recordkeeping because they lead to
decisions that can impact the profitability of your farm," he said.
"I know it taught me responsibility at an early age."
and other "Ag-Econ" professors in Auburn, Tuskegee and
Huntsville are turning out students with marketing skills to meet the
needs of farms big and small.
of our primary responsibilities is to provide our students with the
understanding necessary to become a successful manager," said
Fields. "That might mean running a Co-op store or as a sales
executive with a big territory to cover."
"Ag-Econ" degree might also lead to careers with the Federal
Land Bank, USDA or other entities involved with farming operations.
and other AU professors occasionally visit Co-op stores around the state
because he said, "My guess is at least 60 percent or more of the
managers and employees have a connection with Auburn University and the
two other state universities who teach agriculture economics."
within the "Ag-Econ" field is evident in the number of women
who are enrolling in it. Fields estimates that 30 percent or more of the
students are women.
graduates can expect to make impressive starting wages, especially those
who travel, he said. "Bonuses often add to that starting wage.
in the classroom is as important as knowledge gained by studying books
and listening to lectures.
try to convey to my students the importance of punctuality," he
said. "You can tell a lot about a student by their classroom
attendance and whether they are on time. If they don’t show up for
class, they might not show up on time for their job."
said he has seen little in the way of tardiness or indifference in his
classroom. He believes "people skills" can go a long way in
carving out a successful career as a Co-op manager or sales executive.
what’s in a book is important, but that understanding needs to be
supplemented by communication skills and the ability to get along with
people," he said. "If you can do that, your customers are
going to come back to your store and keep placing orders with your
said most Alabama cooperative stores are multi-million dollar
operations. He said $2 million in annual sales are "relatively
and his father, Deacue Fields, Jr., continue to own a small farm back in
Louisiana, but leaving his classroom setting will be difficult to do in
the years ahead.
plans are to stay in academia and not to go back to the farm
full-time," he said. "I’ve had an opportunity to go
elsewhere to teach, but I love it here at Auburn and hope to stay here
for many years."
and others in AU supervisory positions have made it clear Fields is on
his way up. The next step for him is a full professorship and it would
seem that’s around the corner.