AMERRA managing director departs to join Texas farming company

Robert Hodgen served as managing director at New York-headquartered AMERRA and interim chief executive for organic supply chain-focused Pipeline Foods, which filed for bankruptcy last month.

AMERRA Capital Management managing director Robert Hodgen has left the firm and joined a privately owned farming operation in Texas as its chief executive.

Hodgen will replace retiring chief executive Robert Underbrink at Houston-headquartered King Ranch, an agricultural production and resource management company founded in 1853.

King Ranch produces cotton, almonds, vegetables and other crops. The company operates an 825,000-acre cattle breeding ranch and is a majority owner of one of the largest citrus operations in the US, according to a statement from the company.

“I feel as if I have been preparing for this role my whole life,” Hodgen said in the statement.

Hodgen spent six years as managing director at New York-headquartered AMERRA, according to his LinkedIn profile. It shows he joined the firm in early 2015 after 10 years as vice president at JD Heiskell Holdings – a family-owned company headquartered in Tulare, California involved in livestock feed manufacturing and grain trading – and an earlier four-year stint as an administrative manager at Cargill.

King Ranch’s statement noted Hodgen’s time with AMERRA included leadership on investments into six platform agribusiness and aquaculture companies, as well as service on boards of directors for two companies.

One of those companies was Pipeline Foods, a business focused on the supply chain for organic and non-GMO grains and oilseeds that AMERRA created in 2017, and which filed for bankruptcy last month. In April 2019, Hodgen became Pipeline’s interim chief executive, replacing founder Eric Jackson before being succeeded by Anthony Sepich in October 2019.

Pipeline’s bankruptcy filing cited covid-19 related travel restrictions as a key source of financial distress leading to the bankruptcy, which came after authorities in several states revoked the company’s operating licenses after complaints of late payment by suppliers.

A source familiar with Pipeline told Agri Investor such restrictions and the timing of covid-19 played a key role in the company’s challenges, which they stressed also reflect widespread distrust among food manufacturing and trading customers about the validity of US grain supply claiming organic status.

“There have been a few instances [in the market] where the claim of organic was challenged and tested and resulted in it being conventional,” the source explained. “There was a lack of trust [prevalent across the market] that the actual inputs were organic in nature.”

The source claimed no specific knowledge of a link between Pipeline’s bankruptcy and Hodgen’s departure from AMERRA and noted his key role in driving the firm’s strategy for the company.

“When you have a portfolio company that goes bankrupt, it’s not good for your job,” they added.

Hodgen did not return messages seeking further detail and AMERRA declined to comment.