Less than 2% of the population of the U.S. are farmers and ranchers, yet they are responsible for feeding the other 98% of us – plus many others beyond our borders. In Arizona alone, agriculture contributes $23 billion to the economy. As the founder of Ag Lands Southwest LLC, a real estate brokerage firm that specializes in the sale and purchase of working cattle ranches and other agricultural properties in both Arizona and New Mexico, Tamra Kelly is helping to sustain the industry.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started?
I was born and raised in Arizona. My husband and I own and operate a working cattle ranch in Central Arizona. In addition to a cow-calf operation, we grow hay on a 70-acre plot. Throughout our marriage, we have owned several large, open-range cattle ranches operating on leased and private lands in Central and Western Arizona.
With an associate’s degree in paralegal studies and certification by N.A.L.A., I worked as a paralegal/office manager. During this time, I was also working towards earning a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration plus a Master’s in Public Administration from Northern Arizona University. When my husband retired and closed his law firm, I earned my license as a real estate agent specializing in the sale and purchase of working cattle ranches. Eventually, I became a broker and started my firm, Ag Lands Southwest.
How were you able to build a clientele in the ranching world?
I have been extremely fortunate in building my clientele in the ranching world. My client base has been built primarily through word-of-mouth from ranchers and agricultural associations. There has also been some attracted by some targeted advertising.
Who are your usual clients?
My clients are either seasoned ranchers or young first time buyers. I especially enjoy educating first time buyers and assisting them through the process. They usually require extensive education on many levels. They don’t always understand the loan process or the lending opportunities. It is also getting more and more difficult for young ranchers to get started in the business. FFB and Patrick Hamilton understand these challenges and use all the available options to assist my clients and me through this process.
How did you connect with Pat Hamilton and First Financial Bank (FFB)?
I first met Pat when my firm was hired to market a foreclosure sale of a small farm in southern Arizona. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Pat on numerous projects involving the financing of working cattle ranches and other agricultural properties. I’ve found his knowledge and experience in putting together financing options for prospective purchasers exceptional.
What are the biggest challenges you and your clients face as ranchers?
The government and ignorance. The increasing regulations and policies by local, state, and federal agencies have created unbelievable obstacles to the profitable operation of an agricultural business. Moreover, the lack of knowledge of the general population regarding the origin, production, and dissemination of agricultural products from the “ranch to the store” has resulted in misdirected opinions and beliefs, which adversely impact the operation of a successful cattle ranch. The historical adversaries of predators, insects, invasive species, drought, fire, and disease have been compounded by typically well-meaning but misdirected people who fail to understand the nature and indispensability of the agricultural industry. It has become a constant struggle.
Why did you choose FFB for your own personal financing? Why do you refer clients to Pat?
We had used a different lender in the past and felt harassed at times with insignificant regulations, policies, and fees each time we moved with our cattle operations. We chose FFB for our personal financing when we decided to sell our two larger ranches and consolidate to pay off our debt before the last election. We wanted financial freedom with the ability to have a credit line if we found prospective investments.
My clients that choose to work with Pat love his professionalism. He has become more than a banker to most and they enjoy his friendship when he visits their operations each year. Pat is not your typical banker – they look forward to his annual visits to their farms and ranches.
What do you see for the future of ranching?
I see more and more obstacles, including natural disasters, legislation, and the lack of education. Ranchers always feel like they are fighting mother nature or politics. As always, we need to educate the public, we need good representation at the legislative level, and we need to work together in these challenging times.