Farm Credit Illinois Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson, president and CEO of Farm Credit Illinois, is shown at the cooperative’s Mahomet headquarters on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. FCI is preparing for a significant expansion at the local site.

MAHOMET — Aaron Johnson, new Farm Credit Illinois president and CEO, is poised to help oversee a building expansion this year to add about 20,000 square feet — and several new jobs — at the company’s headquarters here at 1100 Farm Credit Drive.

“We need more room. We’re out of space,” he said Tuesday.

Several new staff positions will be added at the site, where about 21 have been added in the last two years and four to five are opening up this year.

“This isn’t only our central office location but it’s also our largest retail office,” Johnson noted.

Right now, FCI employs more than 100 people in Mahomet and has a total of about 231 employees.

“Our association is the southern 60 counties of Illinois, so that’s the territory that we serve,” Johnson said. “We have over 8,500 farm families that we work with.”

FCI is a cooperative owned by its members, he explained, that makes loans to agriculture-related entities — such as farmers, naturally — and sells crop insurance.

“Those are really the two areas that we’re chartered to do,” he said. “We make loans for farmland, mostly, and then operating loans and machinery loans for farm operators. We have some loans to investors for real estate and then we loan money to farmers for everything agricultural.”

On the crop insurance side, FCI is not an agency and doesn’t own any crop insurance business, Johnson noted.

“But we are an agent for a number of companies who sell crop insurance, and then we sell and service the products in the marketplace,” he said.

The business has been centered in the Champaign area since its start, and headquartered in Mahomet since 2008.

“The Mahomet area is a good area to attract top employees because they need the good school systems and the good access to airports and fac ilities, so it really does meet our needs as a central office location,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s father operated a small farm, so he comes from an agriculture background, but his calling has been related to farm finances.

Johnson was named FCI president and CEO on Dec. 18 by the cooperative’s board of directors. He had served in the post on an interim basis since Sept. 25, when former CEO Tom Tracy died unexpectedly.

“Aaron is an experienced executive and visionary leader whose understanding of this organization is only surpassed by his passion for both farm family members and FCI employees,” FCI board chair Eric Mosbey said in a press release Dec. 18. “He has provided steady and seamless leadership these past months and the board is confident he will lead the cooperative brilliantly in ‘Helping Farm Families Succeed’ for the coming years.”

With nearly 35 years of Farm Credit and banking career experiences, Johnson first joined the Farm Credit System in 1985. Following a successful lending and field management career based in Farm Credit’s Pontiac and Decatur offices, he joined the association’s senior management team in 2002 and was named executive vice president in 2014.

Johnson is a native of New Holland and earned an organizational business management degree from Illinois State University after attending Lincoln Land Community College. He serves on the Farm Credit Foundations Trust Committee, which provides fiduciary oversight of the human resources collaboration serving more than 8,900 Farm Credit employees in 30 states.

Johnson and his wife Debbie reside in Monticello and have three children and three grandchildren.

“Our purpose and mission is to help farm families succeed, and that’s what we do every day. We work hard every day to create better lives and help the farmers in the region succeed,” Johnson said of the FCI mission.

After his decades in agriculture, he has a feel for challenges facing producers in 2020.

“I think the biggest change for our farmers today and the way we do business is the volatility in agriculture,” Johnson said.

Mother Nature always has been a major factor in agriculture, of course, but he said there are other constantly looming challenges to deal with currently as well.

“Now, you’ve got everything from big price swings to the tariffs to … just things that are outside of our control here in agriculture that we have to deal with,” Johnson said. “The volatility in the markets is so much different than it used to be.

“Even with the technology increases and the yield increases that have been brought on, it’s still more difficult today to be a farmer than it was,” he added, compared to the 1980s when he started his career, “because you have to manage the risk and volatility.”

To that end, FCI has programs specifically to assist young farmers, he said.

“It’s tough to be a young farmer today,” he said.

“Our job is to make sure that agriculture from top to bottom has the capital they need to produce the food for the world,” Johnson said. “It’s a pretty daunting challenge to think about, but it’s all we do. That’s why we’re so focused: The better you can focus and do one thing, the better you can be at it.”

Asked about his own recipe for success, Johnson praises FCI and the culture of the company.

“One of my responsibilities is to make this a great place for the employees to be so that they can take care of the members,” he said. “As a cooperative, it’s not about stock price; it’s about member satisfaction and experience.

“It makes it a fun job as CEO,” he added.

For Johnson, it’s all about growing roots in agriculture in many ways.

“We do have a number of employees here who do farm today, besides working here,” Johnson said. “It’s in our blood.”