With a family background rooted in poultry and beef cattle, Josh Phillips was exposed to a wide variety of agricultural operations at a young age. Having grown up on a small cow-calf beef operation in Augusta County, VA, Josh developed an ever-evolving appreciation and passion for agriculture. Through his father’s guidance (Keith Phillips ’76) who was an Animal Science graduate at Virginia Tech and former collegiate livestock judge, Josh was able to continue his interest in agriculture by joining Future Farmers of America (FFA) and attending the Virginia Governor’s School for Agriculture hosted at Virginia Tech.

In high school, Phillips was able to further expand his FFA experiences by competing on the Wilson Memorial Dairy judging team. These competitions are a comparative evaluation where cattle are ranked based on their closeness to “ideal” dairy conformation. During this time, Phillips and his team finished second in the state FFA competition.

With a background in agriculture and a desire to attend a land-grant university; Phillips found Virginia Tech to be his new home.

Virginia Tech Dairy Club trip to the Czech Republic in 2015. Photo courtesy of Emma Brown.
Virginia Tech Dairy Club trip to the Czech Republic in 2015. Photo courtesy of Emma Brown.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Josh found his interests both within and outside of the classroom.

He recalls two professors and their classes that helped shape his interest and career path. Mike Ellerbrock’s macroeconomics class and Jason Grant’s futures and options class. Both classes helped Phillips to realize his interests in the economic and financing side of the agricultural industry.

Upon arriving on campus, Phillips continued to follow in many of his father’s footsteps. By joining Alpha Gamma Rho, a long-standing Agricultural Fraternity, Phillips was able to live in the historic off-campus house while continuing the legacy that his father and fellow “founding” fraternity brothers started back in 1975.

In addition to Alpha Gamma Rho, Josh was also involved in Alpha Zeta (Honor's Fraternity), Dairy Club, Feed by Seed, and he was a founding member of Commodity Investing by Students (COINS).

“This experience was truly remarkable. I was able to see how a Virginia-based livestock exporting company can be a global leader in the industry,” Phillips said of his 2014 internship with T.K. Exports, Inc., owned by Virginia Tech alumnus C. Gordon Thornhill, Jr. ’75. 

T.K. Exports, Inc. is the largest U.S. exporter of breeding animals and manages projects worldwide representing 50 countries and over 100,000 animals delivered. TKE exports by aircraft and by ocean vessel.

During his time with T.K. Exports, Phillips was tasked with helping the shipment of 2,500 Angus and Holstein cattle to Kazakhstan. “There are many USDA regulations and guidelines you must adhere to when exporting livestock. My job when working for T.K. Exports was to make sure the cattle were healthy, eating properly, and that all cattle health regulations and processes were being met for export,” said Phillips.

Phillips went on to say that Grant’s class at Virginia Tech was impactful during this internship because he was able to view international trade policy and management first-hand. When Phillips recounted the day that 2,500 cattle were loaded onto a boat and shipped out of the Port of Wilmington, Delaware he said it was “a real-world application of agriculture and one I will never forget.”

First day as a service tech for Pilgrim’s. Photo courtesy of Craig Hannas.
First day as a service tech for Pilgrim’s. Photo courtesy of Craig Hannas.

From Shift Work to Banker’s Hours

Phillips worked six years within the poultry industry upon graduating from Virginia Tech. He split his six years in half by working at Perdue Farms and Pilgrim's. During this time, Phillips learned every component of the vertically integrated industry. From the Hatchery to the Grocery Store, Phillips was able to garner valuable management experience and hardworking values from the poultry industry. With this background and experience, Phillips decided that a career change to become an Agricultural/Commercial lender at First Bank and Trust Company would be an exciting next step.

From recounting his time at Perdue Farms as a continuous improvement manager, Phillips noted one thing that every economics teacher would love to hear, he stated “There is an optimal amount to everything we do. In business, it was my job to find the optimal settings/run times and turn them into a profit for the bottom line.”

At First Bank and Trust Company, they offer financing to individuals in agriculture who want to expand farming operations, acquire real estate/make improvements, purchase equipment and/or livestock, operating lines of credit, and start-up farming operations.

As an agricultural lender, Phillips works to understand farmers’ needs and requests. By collecting information around assets, liabilities, and income, He can structure financing that makes sense for both the farmer and the bank. Phillips contributes to the agricultural industry by helping farmers meet their financial goals.

By Melissa Vidmar