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May 19
Army Veteran Turned Farmer Gets His Start with Help From GreenStone

​Jed Welder is the owner and operator of Trinity Farms in Greenville, Michigan, where he raises corn and soybeans on 800 acres, along with several acres of hops. Before he embarked on a career as a farmer, Jed served as an officer in the United States Army for more than 10 years, with tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, serving as an armor officer. 

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“I served with some of the greatest men and women in the world,” said Jed regarding his time in the military. In 2008, he and his wife made the decision to transition from Army life to farm life. They returned to Michigan to start a family and their farm. “We loved moving to the country and enjoyed the challenges of learning this new profession,” says Jed. As they learned, the Welders quickly realized they would need access to land and capital in order to make their dreams of farming a reality. 

Jed knew that local farming communities are like the military – a close-knit group. Jed got to know some farmers in the area, and sought their advice on getting started. Several recommended the local Farm Credit explaining that many of their local banks were unable, for one reason or another, to provide operating loans to farmers. Heeding their guidance, Jed prepared a business plan and made an appointment with a loan officer at his local GreenStone branch. “They understood what I wanted to do and what I needed to run my operation. They made good, solid recommendations, and over time became a trusted partner.”

As Trinity Farms has grown, GreenStone has been a partner along the way. This past summer, he financed the construction of a grain drying and storage system. “My loan officer came out to see the progress and talk with me about it,” said Jed. Besides the personal, individualized service, Jed feels one of the greatest benefits of working with GreenStone is having a partner who understands his business. “Their office is twenty minutes away; they know how the crops in our area look and what the prospects for harvest are because they are in the business of working with farmers.”

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With challenging times on the horizon for much of the agricultural industry, Jed recognizes the importance of working with a lender like GreenStone, who not only understands the market cycles, but will be there to support rural communities and agriculture in good years and in challenging years as well. “Right now we are planting corn and soybeans with prices very near break-even. There is an exciting revolution in precision agriculture and technology that will help us be more efficient, but at the same time the cost of farming increases every year,” said Jed. “Having a lender that works with me, that knows my farm and the challenges I face, is more important than ever.”

After years of serving his country in the Army, Jed and his family serve again, this time through the hard work and dedication that is required of the farmers who provide the world with food and fuel. 

GreenStone thanks Jed and all veteran farmers like him, for their service to our country and their commitment to our rural communities. 


May 11
Farmer Veteran Coalition National Conference Coming to Michigan

​Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), a national non-profit serving military veterans working in agriculture since 2008, has announced that the Michigan chapter of FVC (FVC-MI) will be hosting the third annual Farmer Veteran National Stakeholders Conference at the Kellogg Center at Michigan State University, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, 2016. 

FVC-MI is the first state chapter of the organization to host the national conference, which is a partnership with MSU’s Vets to Ag Program, and will bring over 500 farmer veterans from around the country to MSU.

The conference will host workshops and education tracks on everything from agricultural topics and production models to business planning and personal wellness. Evenings will be highlighted with a Michigan wine and beer event on Nov. 30 and a gala dinner on Dec. 1, featuring distinguished speakers from the military, government agencies, and leaders in the agricultural industry.

“Hosting the National Stakeholders Conference in Michigan is a great honor for FVC-MI and our State, and highlights our continued effort as a state chapter to bring the highest quality education, and resource opportunities to our veterans farming here in Michigan.” Says FVC-MI Executive Director Adam Ingrao.

Many of the farmer veterans attending the conference are given full or partial scholarships by FVC which covers airfare, hotel, and conference registration and allows FVC to reach a wide group of veterans. The scholarship program is solely funded by donations and those interested in helping a veteran attend are urged to contact FVC-MI directly (see contact information below). 

Ingrao says, “This is an opportunity for anyone interested in helping a veteran to have a direct impact. The conference is not just an education and resource opportunity but serves a much deeper purpose for veterans and allows them to reconnect with those who stood by them in uniform. Ultimately, everything we do at FVC-MI and FVC is geared toward building a strong and resilient farmer veteran community.”

How you can help.

  • Conference Sponsors are currently being sought and will allow your company or organization the opportunity to support one of the most transformative movements in modern agricultural history.

  • Private Donors can support the conference through direct donations to our general fund or can donate directly to support a scholarship for a veteran to attend the conference.

  • Conference Partners that can offer services or expertise in particular areas can have the opportunity to work directly with farmer veterans.

Individuals interested in learning more about the conference can reach FVC-MI Executive Director, Adam Ingrao, at 951-237-5311 and beewisefarms@gmail.com, or FVC-MI President, Dylan Thomas, at 517-898-2381 and twopinesfarm@gmail.com. 

You can also find them on Facebook at Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan. Veterans can sign up for a free membership to FVC online at www.farmvetco.org.


May 09
GreenStone Volunteers Plant Trees in Detroit at Third Annual Hantz Farms Planting Day

Volunteers from GreenStone Farm Credit Services traveled to the city of Detroit on Saturday, May 7 to plant trees in abandoned lots at Hantz Woodlands​

Hantz Woodlands is transforming blight to beauty as vacant, abandoned properties are converted to fields for new agricultural production.​ To help with the effort, GreenStone employees rolled up their sleeves and got to work planting hundreds of trees in the city.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkeiAZL5b6o[/youtube]​
May 09
Poultry and Egg Market Insights
 

​The broiler industry is projected to continue expanding production for the fourth-consecutive year, while the turkey and egg industries recover from the onslaught of the bird-flu outbreak of 2015 and keep their fingers crossed that spring 2016 will not be a repeat. So far, the only cases of bird flu in the United States in 2016 have been part of an outbreak of an unrelated strain that impacted nine turkey and one egg-layer flock in Dubois County, Indiana on Jan. 15 and 16. The flocks were quickly quarantined and depopulated, and the outbreak appears to be completely contained. However, some countries did slap on export restrictions in response to this incident.

Cold storage stocks of broilers at the beginning of 2016 are at their largest level in 10 years at 832.8 million pounds, which is up 22.5 percent compared to the beginning of 2015. Add in cold storage stocks for turkey (up 3.4 percent), and cold storage stocks for all poultry is at its largest level since 2009 at 1.04 billion pounds (up 18.7 percent over 2015). Cold storage stocks of eggs, at 40.9 million dozen, are up 33.2 percent compared to a year earlier. Therefore, 2016 began with no shortage of available stocks in the poultry and eggs departments.

In 2015, hatch egg production was at its highest level since 2007, according to data from the USDA Chicken and Eggs report, growing for the third-consecutive year to 13.34 billion eggs. Some of this growth was to replace birds lost in the layer flock due the bird-flu outbreak. However, eggs going into broiler production still grew by 3.8 percent to 12.33 billion. During the first seven weeks of 2016, broiler egg sets are 0.5 percent ahead of last year’s pace, according to data from the USDA’s weekly Broiler Hatchery report. Turkey egg placements were down 3.9 percent in 2015 at 320.8 million and through the first two months of 2016 were down 3.4 percent compared to a year earlier, according to data from the USDA’s Turkey Hatchery report.

The February 2016 USDA WASDE projections for the balance table changes in 2016 supply and disappearance for broilers are shown in the chart below. Total supplies are projected to increase just over 1.1 billion pounds, while disappearance is projected to more than offset the supply increase at slightly over 1.25 billion pounds, with domestic disappearance increasing 815 million pounds based on 1.7 pounds per person increase in per capita disappearance, and exports increasing by 446 million pounds. This is projected to draw down ending stocks by over 140 million pounds. Despite the decline in stocks, average prices are still projected to decline by 3 cents to 87.5 cents per pound – mainly driven by the combination of increased per capita availability of poultry, high value of the U.S. dollar and declining prices of substitute meats in the domestic markets. 

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For turkeys, the February WASDE projects a 322 million pound increase in available supplies based on a 317 million pound increase in production, a 7 million pound in increase in beginning stocks and 2 million pound decline in imports. Total disappearance is projected to increase by 272 million pounds with exports making up the majority of the increase at 157 million pounds, and domestic disappearance up 115 million on 0.2 pounds per person per capita consumption increase. Ending stocks are projected to build by 50 million pounds, while prices are projected to come off the historic 2015 highs by declining 2.2 cents to $1.14 per pound – still the second-highest in recent history. 

For eggs, total stocks are projected to be drawn down by a little over 5 million dozen, as supplies increase by 289 million and are more than offset by disappearance of 294 million. Disappearance is mostly domestic consumption (+262 million) followed by hatching use (+20 million) and exports (+12 million). Exports typically make up a small portion of total U.S. disappearance – an average of 4.2 percent in the past five years and 3.2 percent over the past 20 years. Per capita disappearance is projected to increase by 8.2 shell egg equivalents per person; however, prices are projected to come down from last year’s record levels, declining 36.3 cents to an average of $1.455 per dozen – still the second-highest price in recent history.

The key downside risk to the poultry industry in 2016 would be another bird-flu outbreak that is widespread and results in significant reductions in exports. In the 2015 outbreak, broiler exports were affected even though the outbreak was almost completely confined to the turkey and egg-layer industry. The broiler industry depends more heavily on the export market for a significant share of its export demand compared to turkeys and eggs. In 2015, the turkey industry was able to successfully make up the reduced export demand through reduced supplies on the domestic market. The economic impact was essentially limited only to those operations that were directly affected by the virus. The same can be said for the egg-layer industry. A secondary threat to the market is potential oversupply on the domestic and global market given the current high stocks and production levels – particularly for broilers. However, this has not reached a critical level yet, according to most industry experts, but it is concerning to see some numbers approaching 2007 levels. 

Removing the bird-flu scenario, the outlook for margins in the poultry industry looks mostly positive in 2016 as feed costs remain constrained. Exports that were curtailed in 2015 should rebound for broilers, and historically high price levels for turkey and eggs should allow plenty of cushion in producer margins.


The content herein was provided by AgriBank​. AgriBank is one of the largest banks within the Farm Credit System. Under the cooperative structure, AgriBank is owned by the 17 associations within its district, including GreenStone.


May 06
Dairy Market Insights

The price that a producer receives for milk under the U.S. federal marketing order system is basically driven by the prices of four dairy products: cheese, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey as determined by the USDA-NASS in its weekly surveys of production plants. A variety of miscellaneous adjustments to the formula prices are based on where the producer delivers milk, the components of the milk, etc. But the overall fundamentals are going to be driven by the supply/demand fundamentals of cheese, butter, nonfat dry milk (milk powders) and dry whey (whey powders). Increasingly, the international marketplace has become more dominant in analyzing these markets – particularly for the milk and whey powders, which have a longer shelf life and can easily be stored and transported.

The chart below shows the percentage of total disappearance going into exports by product type for U.S. dairy from 1990 through 2015. Cheese and butter, while increasing in recent years, have mostly been less than 10 percent, while the milk and whey powders have gone from 10-15 percent to 40-60 percent over this time period.

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The NASS all milk price received by producers is primarily correlated with the Class III market order price, which is primarily driven by cheese prices. Of secondary importance in many market order territories is Class IV, which is primarily driven by butter and nonfat dry milk prices. Fluid milk (Class I) also influences some market order territories but is essentially lagged Class III or Class IV, depending on the maximum skim component. In terms of domestic per capita consumption, cheese is the primary category that has grown over the past 40 years (Figure 16). Since 1974, per capita cheese domestic disappearance in the United States has increased at an annualized rate of 2.2 percent. The only other category with positive growth has been butter, at 0.5 percent over the same time period. All of the other major categories exhibited slow but uneven negative growth over the same period, although for some (such as dried milk and whey products) this is more a function of increased export demand over time. 

The preceding data support the notion that domestic demand for cheese and butter is the fundamental support to the price for milk in the United States, while additional value is generated by exports of milk and whey powders to overseas markets. The record prices in 2014 were primarily the result of heavy exports of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder to China combined with sharp demand for cheese and butter in the domestic market. In 2015, one of the legs of the three-legged stool was knocked out in that the powder export demand went away, and the dairy market depended on the domestic cheese and butter markets for support. In the first half of 2016, the dairy market will continue to need domestic cheese and butter to carry the markets in order to maintain producer profitability. Fortunately for dairy producers, the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) offers some downside protection.

For 2016, the USDA predicts (in the February 2016 WASDE) the average milk cow herd to decline by 20,000 head (-0.2 percent) to 9.295 million. Production per cow is projected to increase by 1.8 percent (or 412 pounds per head) to 22,795 pounds on the year. Total milk marketed for the year is projected at 210.9 billion pounds, a 1.6 percent increase over the 207.5 billion pounds estimated to have been produced in 2015. Commercial exports are projected to decline by 5.7 percent on a milkfat basis and 0.8 percent on a skim solids basis. Domestic commercial use is projected to increase by 3.6 percent on a milkfat basis and 2.5 percent on a skim solids basis. Overall price per pound product forecasts for 2016 (percent changes in parentheses from 2015) are $1.585 (-3.6 percent) for cheddar cheese, $0.245 (-35.5 percent) for dry whey, $2.04 (-1.3 percent) for butter, and $0.805 (-10.8 percent) for nonfat dry milk. The milk price forecasts (all per hundredweight) are $14.40 (-8.9 percent) for Class III, $13.40 (-6.6 percent) for Class IV, and $15.65 (-8.4 percent) for the all milk price. 

One of the driving factors behind the current bearish global dairy outlook has been the complete phase-out of the EU milk quota regime as of March 31, 2105 and the huge increase in EU28 milk production during the second half of the 2015 milk production season (Figure 17). As with the United States, the EU season runs from January through December, and milk deliveries for 2015 totaled 152.1 million metric tons, which was 2.5 percent larger than 2014 (which was 4.8 percent larger than 2013). Russia has traditionally been one of the primary export markets for EU dairy products; however, with the Russian embargo on EU dairy products still in place, these exports need to find a new home, which often is a traditional U.S. export market. 

Most of the strong growth in recent EU milk production is due to a mild winter across northern Europe, farmgate prices that have held steady despite declining product prices and the removal of the quota. Countries with the largest growth from 2014 to 2015 are Ireland (+13.3 percent), Luxembourg (+8.8 percent), Belgium (+7.2 percent) and the Netherlands (+6.8 percent).

The New Zealand milk production season runs from June through May, so we are almost three-quarters of the way through the 2015/16 production season. The country is composed to two major islands – the North Island (approximately 62 percent of dairy production) and the South Island (remaining 38 percent of dairy production). New Zealand is the 9th-largest milk producer in the world. However, because of its small population, it exports a very high percentage (95 percent) of the milk that is produced – making it one of the leading exporters in the global marketplace. 

Through the first eight months of the 2015/16 production season (June 2015 through January 2016), New Zealand milk production was down approximately 2.7 percent compared to the same period in the 2014/15 season. This is due to excessively dry conditions on the North Island sparked by this year’s strong El Niño weather event, which usually results in hot, dry conditions across much of the Oceania region. Lately, both islands have been receiving good rainfall, and the trend is toward improving soil moisture conditions. Therefore, an improvement in New Zealand milk production to round out the end of the season is not out of the question. 

Overall, there is little to support any level of optimism regarding a strong boost to U.S. dairy exports in 2016 with more downside risk that there is upside opportunity. EU28 production is likely to remain strong, and New Zealand has been hit by the current El Niño. However, the worst is over with minimal damage done, and the Chinese economy is slowly lurching forward with no positive spasm in dairy powder demand (as seen in 2013/14) visible on the horizon. Therefore, U.S. dairy producers cannot count on milk and whey powder prices to boost their farmgate price. In the domestic market, the saving grace for dairy is that American consumers love their cheese and butter. Class II products (ice cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.) have their ups and downs but have been mostly steady in recent years. Fluid milk has been a losing battle for the industry with per capita consumption declining steadily for nearly 20 years at an alarming rate. 

A major concern for domestic dairy has to be the sharp decline in the Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) at the end of 2015. Cheese and butter are particularly sensitive to the away-from-home consumption market, and if this decline in restaurant performance becomes more than a temporary blip on the radar screen, then dairy could be in real trouble in 2016. That being said, USDA price projections for dairy in 2016 look reasonable as a baseline for the year with most of the risk to the downside. 

Current futures-based projections indicate dairy margin over feed costs that could fall below the generally accepted $8.00 per hundredweight benchmark considered as the general breakeven level. It is also the highest margin election level that can be selected under the DMPP program. The USDA price forecast of $14.40 per hundredweight for Class III is about $0.60 below what is generally considered the breakeven equivalent benchmark level of around $15.00 per hundredweight. Of course, this assumes average feed costs, and lower than average feed costs are expected this year.


The content herein was provided by AgriBank​. AgriBank is one of the largest banks within the Farm Credit System. Under the cooperative structure, AgriBank is owned by the 17 associations within its district, including GreenStone.


May 05
Hog Market Insights

​Calendar-year 2015 saw hog prices fall to their lowest levels since 2010 as hog numbers recovered from the PED virus (PEDv) outbreak of 2014. However, average weights did not come down proporti, resulting in an oversupply of pork on the market. A higher dollar also resulted in a lackluster growth in export demand, which did not recover to its pre-PEDv level in 2015. Domestic disappearance was the lone bright spot, jumping sharply to a record 20.7 billion pounds as per capita disappearance rose from 46.4 to 49.9 pounds per person after falling in 2014.

Cold storage stocks of pork at the beginning of 2016 stand at 545.6 million pound, an increase of 8.3 percent over the beginning of 2015. This level of beginning stocks is still smaller than 2009 (555.6), 2013 (551.5) and 2014 (554.3). Commercial pork production in 2015 totaled 24.5 billion pounds, up 7.3 percent from the previous year. Commercial hog slaughter numbers were up 8.0 percent in 2015 at 115.4 million head, and average slaughter weights were down 1.6 pounds per head (down 0.6 percent) from 284.8 to 283.2 pounds.

The USDA Quarterly Hogs and Pigs reports indicated that the Dec. 1 inventory of all hogs and pigs stood at 68.3 million head, an increase of 523,000 (up 0.77 percent) over the same period in 2015. The farrowings for the three months leading up to Dec. 1 were down almost 4.0 percent, while intentions for the first and second quarters of 2016 are down 1.9 and 0.1 percent, respectively. The pig crop for the three months leading up to Dec. 1, 2015 was down 1.2 percent at 30.3 million head, despite pigs per litter increasing by 0.3 head, or 2.9 percent from the previous year – continuing a pattern of sustained strong increases in the pigs per litter seasonal metric from year to year.

Total supplies of pork are projected to increase a net 449 million pounds based on a 531 million pound gain in production added to the 29 million gain in beginning stocks and a 111 million decline in pork imports due to a decline in Canadian swine inventories and excess packer demand in western Canada. However, the repeal of Country of Origin (COOL) legislation could result in higher revisions to the import numbers in the future, which would be reinforced by the higher dollar

On the demand side of the ledger, USDA expects disappearance to increase by 438 million pounds with most of the increase coming from the domestic market (up 254 million), while exports are projected to increase by 184 million pounds. Overall, ending stocks are projected to increase by 11 million pounds with prices falling by $2.70 to a calendar year average of $47.50 per hundredweight (national base barrow / gilt price, live equivalent 51-52 percent lean). 

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After a big increase in 2015, the USDA is projecting that per capita disappearance of pork will take a smaller sustained increase in 2016 as it remains competitively priced versus other meats in the domestic market. In the export market, Mexico was the primary volume destination for U.S. pork in 2015, taking 1.555 billion pounds (31.5 percent) of U.S. exports. Japan was the No. 2 volume destination with 1.209 billion pounds (24.5 percent of 2015 exports). On a total value basis, the rankings were reversed as Japan paid a higher unit price ($1.33/pound) versus Mexico ($0.72/pound). Canada, South Korea and China-Hong Kong ranked 3rd, 4th and 5th on both a volume and value basis, respectively. Pork exports in 2015 were helped by a strong finish to the year as December totals were 9 percent higher than the year earlier. 

Export growth is expected to increase due to the rescinding of COOL along with increased demand from China, which is looking to diversify its imports. The key wildcards in 2016 will be the strength or weakness of the U.S. dollar going forward, the Chinese economy, and whether any progress is made on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which is viewed as very friendly to U.S. pork. 

Despite the lower projected prices, projected margins still look mostly positive for hog producers through most of 2016 and into 2017. The ISU Projected Wean to Finish Crush Margin​, which is based on finishing feeder pigs to 200 pounds finished carcass weight, is mostly in the upper $30 to lower $60 range through December 2016. Most analysts project profits in the positive range for most of 2016, particularly as some new domestic plant capacity comes online later in the year and in the coming years.


The content herein was provided by AgriBank​. AgriBank is one of the largest banks within the Farm Credit System. Under the cooperative structure, AgriBank is owned by the 17 associations within its district, including GreenStone.


May 04
Livestock Doldrums: Beef Cattle

The Jan. 1, 2016 USDA Cattle report left little doubt that the U.S. beef herd has entered an expansion phase. Total beef cows and heifers that had calved were up for the second straight year at 30.3 million head, a 4 percent increase over the Jan. 1, 2015 inventory.

Heifers that were 500 pounds and over and retained for beef cow replacement were up 3 percent over last year. The number of steers 500 pounds and over was up 4 percent, while the number of bulls was up 2 percent. The total number of cattle on feed was up 1 percent compared to a year earlier.

Cold storage stocks of beef began 2016 at the second-largest level in the past 15 years at 513.9 million pounds, surpassed only by the 524.6 billion pounds at the start of 2003. Th is is 15.6 percent larger than the beginning stocks for 2015.

This increase in stocks occurred although commercial beef production was down in 2015 for the fifth-consecutive year, declining 2.2 percent to 23.7 billion pounds. Commercial slaughter of cattle greater than 500 pounds was down 4.7 percent; however, most of this was due to retained heifers. Heifer slaughter was down 12.3 percent (following 8.2 percent decline in 2015), while steer slaughter was down only 0.3 percent. 

To make up for the reduced slaughter numbers (as in the previous year), average slaughter weights increased by 30 pounds per head (or 2.2 p ercent) from 1,331 pounds to 1,361 pounds.

For 2016, the USDA projects a reversal in the five-year declining trend in beef production with an increase of 3.7 percent for the year. This represents an additional 889 million pounds of beef for the market to absorb over what was estimated to have been produced in 2015.

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The above chart shows how the USDA anticipates the market will absorb this extra production in 2016. A big portion (525 million pounds) will be offset by reduced imports. This is due to decreased demand for lean processing beef from Australia and the overall higher domestic beef production. Exports are projected to increase by 209 million pounds due to higher global beef demand and lower prices. Domestic disappearance is also projected to increase by 334 million pounds on higher per capita consumption due to lower prices on the domestic market. Overall, fed cattle prices are projected to decline moderately in 2016, losing on average a little over a dime per pound, but will remain at what can be considered a historically high level at around $135 to $140 per hundredweight.

In the cow-calf/backgrounding sector, producers saw feeder cattle prices come down sharply from the record highs during the second half of 2015 (Figure 10). Prices peaked mid-summer at slightly over $230 per hundredweight on the CME par spot value but gave up over $80 by year-end before bouncing back to consolidate in the current $155 to $165 range. The two main reasons for the collapse were the unsustainable negative feedlot margins that reduced demand and the bottoming of the contraction phase in the cattle cycle with calf numbers starting to increase.

Despite the decline in feeder cattle prices, most analysts still project positive margins for a majority of cow-calf producers in 2016, as pasture and forage conditions remain good across most of the Plains and Corn Belt region. As of the final pasture and range condition report issued on Oct. 25, 2015, the USDA-NASS reported 40 percent of the acreage in good to very good condition versus 25 percent in poor to very poor condition. As of Feb. 9, 2016, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions across portions of Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota with sparse patches of abnormally dry conditions in Texas, Colorado and Kansas.

With the decline in feeder cattle prices and continued lower feed costs, most predictions are for improved cattle feedlot margins in 2016. The Iowa State University Cattle Crush Margin model​ for finishing 750 pound yearling calves to 1,250 pounds finished weight forecasts positive margins for cattle coming to market in May 2016 and continuing through the end of the year. Professor Glynn Tonsor of Kansas State University ​is not quite as optimistic but projects feedlot margins returning close to breakeven by the middle of the year.


The contents herein was provided by AgriBank. AgriBank is one of the largest banks within the Farm Credit System. Under the cooperative structure, AgriBank is owned by the 17 associations within its district, including GreenStone.



April 28
MSU Student Wins USDA Diversity Program Essay Contest

​Michigan State University student Cara Goch was one of 30 university students selected as a winner in the Farm Credit-sponsored USDA Student Diversity Program essay contest, earning a scholarship to attend the 2016 Agricultural Outlook Forum. 

The essay contest is part of USDA’s effort to encourage more diverse attendance at the Forum, providing junior, senior, and graduate students financial support for the annual event, which this year was held Feb. 25-26 in Arlington, Virginia.

The contest’s theme was “Agriculture as a Career,” and Cara wrote about the variety of options available to students pursuing degrees related to agriculture. “For the essay, I chose to write about how agriculture is the basis for a majority of the items we use in our daily lives, as well as the importance of bringing the awareness and excitement of agriculture to younger students in the hopes of encouraging them to pursue a career in the industry,” said Cara.  “I found it important to attend the forum to network with agriculture students from other schools because we will be working together in the near future,” she said. “It was also great exposure to the USDA.” 

The winning students also met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as members of the World Agriculture Outlook Board. 

GreenStone extends congratulations to Cara and all the winning students. Cara’s essay can be read at http://1.usa.gov/1SNrR1w​. 

April 15
Know Your Options: DIY vs. Contracted Home Construction

​By James Cole, GreenStone Financial Services Officer, Howell Office

It finally appears our weather is trending warmer and with that comes interest in construction financing for those thinking about building their own home. Whether you want to hire a contractor or do the work yourself, there are several advantages and challenges to each.

Do-It-Yourself

What could be more fun and exciting than building your own home?  You get to pick and choose everything and make changes whenever you like because you are in charge of the project. In a perfect world, it would be that easy, but the reality is not everyone is ready for all that is required in building a home them self.

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If I had to pick the number one issue do-it-yourself homeowners face, it would be scheduling.  This includes scheduling of materials and sub-contractors. The sub-contractors need to be scheduled out weeks, if not months, in advance. Many sub-contractors are already booked through the end of summer. You will also need to know in which order to schedule the sub-contractors. Some may be able to work simultaneously, but some will need another sub-contractor to be finished before they can begin their work.

Depending on your situation, the cost savings of being your own general contractor may not be worth the hassle.  While you have the flexibility of choosing the sub-contractors and materials, the actual savings may not be as much as you think. Contractors have special pricing deals set up with their suppliers that they often pass on to home owner. You have to decide if you are up to the task of managing the entire project yourself to gain the freedom of choices and changes.

Fully-Contracted

For those that decide to hire a contractor to build the home, be sure to do your research in choosing the contractor. This is one time when the lowest bid is not always the best bid. Take the time to check references and view their existing work. The good news is that many of what you might consider sub-par contractors are no longer building after the construction downturn a few years ago.

The major advantage of hiring a contractor is they know what is required in the home building process. This includes permits, scheduling of materials and sub-contractors, realistic cost estimates, and time frames for work to be completed.

The disadvantage of a fully-contracted build project is you will be giving up some of your flexibility with changes and materials. Change orders can raise the cost of building a home significantly. You are also at the mercy of their chosen sub-contractors as to when the work will be completed. A good contractor will give you a professional building estimate package, including a detailed contract and evidence of insurance. There is a fee for hiring a general contractor, but it may not be as much as you think once factoring in their discounted material pricing and efficiency.

A Third Option

The last option to consider is more of a hybrid scenario. You would act as your own contractor, but hire a project manager to oversee the construction. This individual should be well-versed in home construction and able to assist you in developing timelines for the project. You would still be the one in control, but you will also have someone to assist you in decision making.

Whichever option you choose, GreenStone will be more than happy to assist you with your lending needs. We have significant experience in all three scenarios, and are one of few lenders who understand the do-it-yourself concept. We will discuss the loan options and draw process with you, your contractor or your project manager, in order to make the construction of your home a simple and enjoyable experience.

April 15
Log Home Living

When Dave and Kathy Holland first met, they were college students at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. Not long after, the couple came upon a model log home in Marquette nestled along the shore of Lake Superior. Seeing that house was the start of their lifelong love of log homes, leading them to eventually buy and then build two of their own.

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The Hollands bought 40 wooded acres near Metamora and have gradually made progress towards building their dream retirement home. The first task included clearing trees for the half mile long driveway that leads up a winding, hilly path to the home site. They enlisted family and friends to help clear the drive.  The 4,600 square foot home, which is still under construction, will feature six bedrooms, 3.5 baths, two screened porch areas and 21 foot cathedral ceilings in the main living area. Large windows overlooks a pond surrounded by woods and will be accented by stone fireplace. A finished walk out basement will provide additional living space, and space for their children and grandchildren to spend time when visiting. The acreage provides ample room for the family’s three Labrador retrievers to run and play in the two ponds on the property.

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The Hollands anticipate construction will be completed this summer around July or August. “It is going slower than I thought, but I would say it is going right, and that’s more important to me than the speed,” Dave said. The couple acknowledges that a log home isn’t for everyone, but the time and cost that goes into the construction is more than worth it for the both of them. “When I was a junior in high school I remember seeing a house about a mile from here and thinking, ‘this is it – this is where I want to be.’ This is our dream, and GreenStone has been a big part of that.”



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