Born and raised on a 2,500-acre row crop farm in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, Van McCall (BSA — Agronomy, ’77) briefly considered a career in marine biology before deciding that a farm boy didn’t have much of a future on the ocean.
Transferring from the Florida Institute of Technology, McCall earned his degree from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), then returned to Denton, Georgia, to help run the family business.
It was a devastating drought that hit the state from 1980 through 1982 that led McCall to a career in agricultural finance, as his own family’s farm struggled to survive.
“I needed to use the benefit of the education I was afforded to find a job in that area,” McCall said. “My Dad actually borrowed money from the farm credit system, so we had good contacts with that organization.”
Still, it was more than a year after he first interviewed that McCall was hired as lender for AgSouth.
The lessons learned along the course of that career inspired McCall and his wife, Angie McCall, to establish the Van and Angie McCall Rural Georgia CAES Scholarship Fund to support rural students at CAES as they find their own paths in the agricultural and environmental sciences.
“I’ve always been involved in agriculture, and I wanted other young people who needed some help and who may not have the opportunities I had to get that chance,” he said.
McCall started his career with AgSouth Farm Credit in the 1980s, a time when farmers throughout the country were struggling with high debt loads, devaluation of farmland, export embargoes and severe drought.
“From my experience of farming personally and lending to others, the biggest thing I always tell people who are going into agriculture is that you have to make sure you have a plan to cover everything that can go wrong. There’s a big difference between thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” McCall said.
It was during the farm recession of the 1980s that McCall took on his first management job, directing a special asset unit set up to liquidate or restructure failing farming operations.
“It was hard, but I learned so much. You would have had to have gone through that to understand how horrific it was for everyone involved — families, farmers and lenders who had to live through it,” McCall said.
As chief lending officer for AgSouth, McCall worked with marketing director Christy Smith to develop AGAware, the company’s educational program for established, beginning and new producers in the Southeast. The free program provides comprehensive business and financial literacy education crucial to running a successful farming operation. He continues to work with AgSouth on the program, giving three to five seminars per year.
“AgSouth’s AGAware program was built and inspired by the extremely credit savvy and exuberantly entertaining Van McCall. It is quite difficult to present a six-hour workshop on credit that can hold someone’s attention, much less have them laughing throughout the day,” Smith said. “Mr. McCall can do just that, providing hands-on applications for our attendees to fully grasp the curriculum and leave with tools to strengthen their farm operations. His passion for promoting and educating the next generation of farmers shines throughout everything he does. I am honored to have partnered with him to build and share this program that has helped farmers across Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.”
Since the program was established, the award-winning workshops have helped thousands of producers navigate the complexities of building a business plan, risk management, business management reports and more. The company’s vision for the future of agriculture meshed with McCall’s own desire to support the next generation of agriculture leaders.
“I have been blessed tremendously by the good Lord to do a lot of things and to go a lot of places in my career, and that all started with my degree in agriculture,” said McCall, who served as president of the CAES Alumni Board between 2018 and 2019. “I feel such a responsibility to help anyone I can to have that same opportunity.”
Now retired from AgSouth, McCall still manages a timber operation in Jeff Davis County and is pastor of the church he grew up in, Macedonia Church of God in Denton. McCall and his wife want the new scholarship at CAES to provide opportunities for students from rural counties such as their own.
“A very small percentage of students at the college come from rural counties, and I wanted to do my small part to enable some of these rural county students to have the same great experiences I did at UGA,” McCall added.
McCall joins six fellow past alumni board presidents in creating scholarships at the college. Visit the CAES Alumni Association website to donate to the McCall Scholarship or to learn more about more ways to get involved.