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Next generation ready to take lead

The future leaders at Kreider Farms, and Bell & Evans, talk about their business transitions.

Chris Torres, Editor, American Agriculturist

April 11, 2024

5 Min Read
From left: Coleman Wagner, Margo Sechler and Khalee Kreider
TALKING LEADERSHIP: At a recent roundtable hosted by PennAg Industries, three leaders of well-known Pennsylvania ag businesses talked about leadership and their farm’s transition. Pictured (from left) are Coleman Wagner, Margo Sechler and Khalee Kreider. Chris Torres

Kreider Farms. Bell & Evans.

If you live in Pennsylvania, especially south-central Pennsylvania, these names are agricultural institutions, just like the cheesesteak is in Philadelphia or a Primanti Bros. sandwich is in Pittsburgh.

Now, the next generations of these iconic agricultural companies are taking over, with aspirations of their own.

“Myself and my brother [Scott Jr.], we were both blessed to be set up with mentors in the company, and that was incredibly valuable,” Margo Sechler, executive vice president of Bell & Evans, told hundreds attending a recent PennAg Industries panel on next-generation farming.

Sechler grew up on her family’s farm, then went to Penn State and earned a degree in nursing. She always planned to return to the business.

Bell & Evans, based in Fredericksburg, Pa., is now a national player in the consumer poultry market. The company has been around since the late 1800s, but its current iteration goes back to the 1980s when Margo’s father, Scott Sechler, combined the Bell & Evans and Farmers Pride names into one company. Since then, it has become a leader in organic poultry products.

Khalee Kreider, the fourth generation at Kreider Farms in Lancaster County, had a winding road back to her family’s business. After graduating high school, she pursued a degree in fashion and took a job with a company in Philadelphia.

Burnout led her back to Kreider Farms, and now she is in the company’s marketing department, applying what she learned in fashion to the food business. In 2021, she graduated with an MBA in food marketing from Saint Joseph’s University. She’s been back on the farm for six years.

Coleman Wagner is the next generation at AgVentures, a lesser-known company in the region that collaborates with 75 local farms to produce, raise and market pigs. Wagner says the lessons passed down to him from previous generations have been crucial to his development as a leader.

“They always operated with this sense of stewardship,” he says, adding that being grounded in faith keeps things in perspective for him. “It sort of grounds you at the end of the day, and the way they have exemplified that in the past, I’ve always admired that.”

But just because they are the next generation doesn’t mean they were given the keys to the kingdom right away. In Margo Sechler’s case, she and her brother were paired with mentors who guided them through the company’s different departments.

“When you’re put into a new area, a new project, a challenge, it’s a team approach, and you have to pull everybody in and respect where everybody is coming from because that’s important,” she said. “And you can’t just go, go, go, always. You have to fail for some things. But if you can fail forward, meaning learning from that and using that as momentum for your next project or challenge, that takes vulnerability and humility.”

Kreider Farms goes back to 1935 when the business was started by Noah Kreider and Mary Hershey. The business grew as subsequent generations bought neighboring farms. Today, it includes more than 3,000 farmed acres, 475 employees, and separate dairy and egg-layer businesses. Its products are well-known in Lancaster County and beyond.

Khalee Kreider said her father, Ron, instilled in her and two of her siblings — who are also in the business — that they are not entitled to anything just because they share the same last name.

“So just because our last name is Kreider doesn't mean that we're going to be able to lead the company,” she said. “So, we all had different positions, and we've all worked our way up through the ranks. At the end of the day when the transition does happen, all of our positions will be hard worked for.”

And just because a company may have a certain name doesn’t mean there is little room for other perspectives.

In the case of Kreider's, Khalee said taking in outside perspectives has been key to the company’s growth.

“I think that’s kind of how we run things at Kreider’s,” she said. “We say that no idea is a bad idea, and we do always include decisions from others on how we are going to move this company and keep growing, and making sure it is a multigenerational family business for years to come.”

Many of Bell & Evans’ frontline workers are either Hispanic or speak a native language that isn’t English. Sechler said that embracing diversity has been key to the company’s growth.

“We have a wide variety of people, and we are a company that promotes that diversity,” she said. “As leaders, it's important that we find those opportunities and create those opportunities for our team to learn and be able to share that same appreciation. That comes with challenges. If someone chooses to harden their heart and not embrace diversity, sometimes there is friction.”

For Wagner, one of the biggest challenges he sees is getting other young people to embrace farming.

“That’s one of the things that we would like to help see resolved going forward,” he said. “Creating more opportunities to entice people to want to farm. On a day-to-day basis, there's not a lot of younger faces operating on the farm."

Now that they are taking over, each of these young leaders say they are ready to make their own mark and continue their family’s legacy. Jokingly, Sechler said her father has been talking about her and her brother joining the business for many years.

“So, this is no surprise,” she said with a laugh. "I think he really paved that path, sharing his vision and excitement for us in the business, and lucky him, here we are. Just him being open about that and transparent, that was key.”

“For a transition to be successful, the next gen has to have the know-how,” Wagner said. “Whether it was by design or not, I think Dad was really good at just throwing me to the wolves, and it was trial by fire in a of number of scenarios. I didn’t think I knew how to do it, but I learned. And you learn really quickly doing it that way.”

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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