Jerry Newby’s love of farming brought him to Montgomery as president of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance in 1998. This month, that love is taking him back home as he retires as president.
The Limestone County native says he’s excited about seeing more of his family, studying his Bible and being more active at Sardis Springs Baptist Church.
“I’m looking forward to spending more time with my mama and my wife and being with my grandchildren,” said Newby, whose face lights up when he talks about his grandchildren, Madalyn and “Newby” (Jerry Allen III). “My family has done a good job of farming while I was gone, and I’m going to try to stay out of their way. I see this as a real opportunity to change gears and unwind.”
Newby Farms operates in north Alabama and southern-middle Tennessee. The diversified farm includes cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans and stocker calves and enjoyed a good harvest in 2012.
The recent death of his father, perhaps, heightened Newby’s desire for home and family. When he came to Montgomery, Newby said he intended to move his family with him, but it became apparent that it was better to uproot himself than his entire family.
“My children were able to finish high school with their friends and be near the farm and family,” Newby said. “Our oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is married to Justin Crow. Our son, Jerry Allen, is married to Ashley, and they have our two grandchildren. Elizabeth and Jerry Allen are both partners in Newby Farms. Our youngest daughter, Mary Anna, lives in Boulder, Colo., where she does marketing using social media and volunteers for charity. All three are involved in their churches. I am so proud of our children, their spouses and our grandchildren.”
Newby said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Dianne, whom he describes as “the love of my life.”
The Newbys serve on the Limestone County Farmers Federation Board of Directors and plan to come back to many Alabama Farmers Federation meetings as members.
“I am going to miss being with my Federation friends around the state and the people I’ve worked with in Montgomery and throughout the country,” Newby said. “God has blessed me with being around good people all my life, and that’s certainly true when I think about my time as president of the Federation and Alfa. But, I won’t miss the storms.”
During Newby’s 14 years as president of Alfa, Alabama had more catastrophic storms than in the previous 50 years. Newby said he has a greater appreciation for how powerful weather can be.
“I’ve always known how important the weather is to farmers, but it can also mean everything to our company,” he said. “The storms we had were unprecedented in frequency and severity, but Alfa took care of its policyholders. Alfa is a stronger company today because of those storms and the steps we’ve taken to prepare for them and service our customers. I hope our members and policyholders never have to face storms like that again.”
Reflecting on his years as president, Newby said the biggest highlight would be Alabama’s re-affiliation with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) in 2006. He said he believes Farm Bureau gives Alabama farmers greater opportunities to develop their leadership skills, pointing to the election of Townsend Kyser of Hale County (2008) and Will Gilmer of Lamar County (2010) as AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee chairmen.
AFBF President Bob Stallman said Newby stands out in a long line of distinguished agricultural leaders from Alabama.
“Because of Jerry, not only is the Alabama Farmers Federation stronger, but so is the AFBF,” Stallman said. “He has been an influential and respected member of the AFBF Board of Directors. He has always been a strong advocate, not only for farmers in Alabama, but also for the whole of American agriculture. Jerry’s broad, strategic vision, his insightful business acumen and his expertise in the area of cotton policy have been invaluable. We will miss his leadership and his fellowship, and we wish Jerry and Dianne a long and happy retirement.”
Among Newby’s closest associates at Alfa is Al Scott, who serves as chief legal counsel for the company. He describes Newby as compassionate, caring and benevolent.
“Mr. Newby is a servant leader,” Scott said. “It’s the same leadership style you see in the Bible. He leads with humility, and he leads by serving others. He has an abiding regard and concern for people. He not only insists that people be treated fairly, but that they also be treated with respect.”
Scott said he admires Newby’s Christian faith.
“He loves his family, he loves farming, and he loves people,” Scott said. “If he ever took time away from Alfa, or if he ever had a spare moment, you could be pretty sure that he was doing something pertaining to those four things: his faith, his family, farming or other people.”
Prior to his election as president, Newby served as a vice president of the organization and as a member of its board of directors. He was president of the Limestone County Farmers Federation for 14 years. He began his involvement in the organization as a member of the Young Farmers, serving as Limestone County’s chairman, and then as chairman of the State Young Farmers Committee. He also served on the AFBF Young Farmer & Ranchers Committee.
Limestone County Farmers Federation Board Member Billy Maples nominated Newby for Federation president 14 years ago and for each re-election since then.
“I watched Jerry’s progression through Federation leadership roles for years, and I knew he was honest and straightforward,” Maples said. “He’s always been very tenacious and worked hard. He was the right person for the job at the right time.”
Looking back on his term as president, Newby said he’s pleased with the expansion of the Federation’s commodity department that grew to include new divisions for hay and forage; wildlife; bee and honey; greenhouse, nursery and sod; equine; and meat goats and sheep. Growth in the Agriculture in the Classroom program, development of the Ag Tag, creation of the Alabama Farmers Agricultural Foundation, passage of the Family Farm Preservation Act and defeating Amendment 1 in 2003 all occurred under his leadership. But in his usual selfless manner, Newby is quick to give credit to others.
“The Federation’s success comes from the fact that it is a true grassroots organization,” Newby said. “The Alabama Farmers Federation has great leaders all over the state. I want to thank everyone for doing their part in making and keeping our organization strong.”
Newby said he’s excited about going home.
“Time just flew by,” he said. “Life is short. It can seem long when you’re living it, but looking back, it’s very short. I’m excited about working outside again, and hopefully they’ll still let me pick some cotton.”