NORMAL, Ill. — Michael Morris, vice president appraisal at Compeer Financial, was inducted into the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers Hall of Fame during the organization’s annual meeting.
The Hall of Fame began in 1980 and salutes members who have given “above and beyond” the expectations of normal membership and recognizes their contributions both to the organization as well as the agriculture industry in the state.
During the presentation, Rob Woodrow, ISPFMRA immediate past president, noted Morris’ career beginning as a trainee with Farm Credit Services 30 years ago.
He cited Morris’ climb through that organization from a district review appraiser, a senior appraiser and finally the chief appraiser spot as the company went through a number of name changes including AgriBank, 1st Farm Credit Services and now Compeer Financial.
Morris also served as president of the Illinois Coalition of Appraisal Professionals for nearly 10 years.
“Mike has been a strong supporter of the chapter and has been instrumental in encouraging membership among younger and new employees at Farm Credit,” Woodrow said.
“When Rob called me about the Hall of Fame, I was maybe a little taken back. Knowing a lot of the people who have been previously put into the Hall of Fame, I saw them as really what you want to strive for as far as being a leader and so forth. The irony is I had my hands full managing different staffs over the years and most of the work I did for the Illinois chapter was mostly what I’d call behind the scenes,” Morris said.
“I serve on the Appraisal Foundation Committee and state board and I’ve tried to make sure the agricultural message was known. Even though I wasn’t sitting in a direct leadership role, I was really able to support agriculture and the appraisal industry.
“Having sat in a lot of ICAP meetings with appraisers and being clearly in the minority of that group (American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers have two seats) on that board of about a dozen people, there was always a reluctance by farm appraisers to sit on that board because it is made up heavily of commercial/residential appraisers.
“It was a huge educational process for me and I also realized how much they started to rely on me when it came to any agricultural type issues. I had people reaching out about farm appraisals. I wasn’t necessarily coaching them to do it, but trying to help them understand the way we do agriculture and the valuation within agriculture is a lot different than what they do.
“I had really good friends on there that were pure urban people, but we did speak kind of the same language of appraisal. I really think they came to understand that we do something completely different than they do.”
Morris spent much of his youth on the family farm in Missouri, where they raised about 110 cows on pastureland. His father was a University of Missouri Extension agent.
“My grandparents lived on the farm and we finally moved to the farm. Dad had one of those jobs where we lived in two or three different places in my lifetime. Every Saturday morning I got dragged out of bed and we were off to the farm to take care of the cattle or build fence. During the summers we were cutting, baling and moving hay,” Morris said. “When we finally moved to the farm, it was nice not to have to jump in the car and drive 30 miles to work on the farm.”
His first exposure to the banking side of agriculture was as a University of Missouri student when he interned with the Farmers Home Administration in Columbia, Missouri.
“My dad had bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Missouri. Education was important and I always assumed I’d go to ag school there. I didn’t have the stomach or the grades to be a veterinarian. The agronomy or livestock didn’t really have the draw to me, even though we had livestock and I enjoyed that,” Morris said.
“I kind of followed in dad’s footsteps. He had an ag econ degree and that was kind of the direction I wanted to go. With ag econ, I could be in a bank. When I got into college, the ag econ part really held an interest to me. I didn’t really want to go more toward accounting or anything like that. I think looking back I realized that I liked to mess with data and to slice it and dice it.”
Morris was tossed into the fire of sorts during his first years in banking, graduating from college in 1981, when the farm financial crisis was deepening. His first position was loan officer at the Federal Land Bank.
“Back in those days you did everything. You wrote the loan. You did the credit check. You handled abstracts and appraisal. I started off in those turbulent 1980s and was in central Missouri at that time,” he explained.
“It was kind of a time when you were afraid to see the next customer walk in because you didn’t know if they were coming in to buy some land or was having trouble making payments. Those were interesting times.”
After the Farm Credit System merged the Federal Land Banks and Production Credit Association, Morris moved to Kirksville in northeast Missouri as a branch manager managing a small staff.
“At that point we were doing everything — short-term loans, long-term loans, crop insurance, appraisals and so forth. So, I had an opportunity in the late 1980s to gravitate toward appraisal. That was one part I always liked. I liked being out in the country looking at property. I made that move and continued to build my appraisal education and decided I kind of liked that part of my career more than being a loan officer,” he recalled.
He then took a position at St. Paul when the St. Paul and St. Louis Farm Credit banks merged.
“I’d never been in a ‘city’ before and didn’t really like the idea at first, but it started to grow on me. That gave me a broader perspective of appraisals because we were doing Farm Credit appraisals in multiple states. One week we might be in Arkansas and another week we might be in Illinois, Michigan or Wisconsin. So, I learned a lot about that and really started to hone my skills,” he said.
On To Illinois
After spending a couple of years at St. Paul, Morris had an opportunity to stay with the company and move to Illinois.
“I came to Illinois around 1992 as a regional appraiser and that’s when I became associated with the Illinois Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and started building a lot of those relationships,” he said.
“I had a mentor that was outside of the system and used to be in the Farm Credit system who really helped me understand how to appraise hog facilities, grain facilities and those higher specialty type properties. I really found I had kind of a knack for doing that.”
When two central Illinois Farm Credits merged, Morris was offered the post to head the appraisal group. After holding that position from 1999 through 2007, he had an opportunity to go to First Farm Credit and do the same thing. When Compeer was formed in 2017, he was named chief appraiser.
“I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve had leadership, whether it’s Compeer or 1st Farm Credit or Farm Credit Illinois, that really understood the big picture and allowed me to do things whether it’s on the state board level or national level, because they see the value in that knowledge base and the networking versus just kind of hiding and say you’re just an appraiser and go do that,” he noted.
Morris was a member of the Missouri Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers at the beginning of his career.
“It was a small chapter. I never participated in Minnesota. I came to Illinois and within about two months after moving to Illinois ISPFMRA had a chapter meeting and I walked in and there was over 200 people there. The level of networking, respect and the level of education programs that they put on compared to what I had been around before kind of blew me away,” he said.
“As I got to know more of these people and develop those relationships I think for me over these last 25 or 26 years the thing that I’ve really been able to take away from that group is not only a commitment to excellence, the education and so forth, but it’s also been the quality friendships, the networking.
“If I have a need I can call 30 or 40 different people in the state and ask them if they could help me out they’d probably drop what they were doing to help out. I would hope that they would think the same of me if they need my help.
“Both appraisal and farm management have changed a lot in the 20 years, but I haven’t seen any change in the level of commitment. People are still very committed to agriculture as our cause. It’s been a great organization to be part of.”