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June 18
College Fund vs. Student Loan

​The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl​​

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The other day, I was asked for counsel concerning how to fund an adult student’s advanced degree in law. The question was whether the couple should borrow from their child’s college fund or pay interest on a student loan. Let’s examine the details of this case study.

The interest payments on the student loan would start as soon as they started the advanced degree. The caveat was that interest would begin accruing at 6 to 7 percent when the money was borrowed. In this case, the couple’s college fund, which they had diligently saved for their child, would be enough to fulfill the financial requirements of law school. Their only child was currently in grade school. I jokingly said, “Get the kid enrolled in athletic camps to fund their future degree!” All joking aside, serious thought needs to go into the student-borrowing challenge.

This couple has a proven record of living within their means and the discipline to save and invest as agriculture business owners. They have saved and invested over the years and built up a nest egg.

How much of a child’s education expenses should be funded by the parents? While it is admirable to pay for a portion of the child’s education, one does not have to pay for all of the youngster’s expenses. Children who are responsible for funding at least a portion of their tuition and expenses often are more engaged in the educational process. This could also be a good financial literacy lesson where saving and investing can be learned early in life.

Another element to consider is the future of college education for the child. Sometimes community college or a trade school that aligns with the youngster’s motivations can be a good option at a lower cost than a traditional university degree.

The next consideration is the rate of return on investment in the college fund compared to the cost of student loan borrowing. A conservative or modest investment portfolio will not earn a rate of return close to the cost of the student loans. Thus, the trade-off between the interest rate earned on the investments and the cost of the borrowed funds builds a strong case for using the educational fund instead of a student loan.

While nothing is guaranteed, the additional earnings from the law degree, along with the other spouse’s wages, would equip this family to partially fund the child’s future education expenses.

Life is full of complexities. Funding education expenses is analogous to a flight attendant instructing you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. While it may seem selfish, this approach often makes the most sense for many families.​


June 15
GreenStone in the Community: Habitat for Humanity

Engaging in local activities is one way GreenStone gives back to places where we work and live. Our employees carry out our passion for community engagement through a variety of activities both as GreenStone representatives and as volunteers – we are pleased to tell their stories here. Watch for upcoming stories of how our employees give back in our Open Fields blog!

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Imagine a world where everyone, no matter their background or income, has a decent place to live. That same imagination is what founded Habitat for Humanity back in 1976. Since then, the organization has built, renovated and preserved over one million affordable, single-family homes around the world. In 1987, Habitat for Humanity Lansing was established, which later became Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. It continues the vision in Ingham County by building homes and accessibility ramps, and operating two ReStores, which sell new and gently used household items well below retail price. ​

Habitat for Humanity collaborates with community members broadening their access to affordable housing options, which ties in with one of GreenStone’s core four values of getting involved. Melissa Stolicker, GreenStone’s chief internal auditor, recently participated in the Women’s Build Week project through Habitat for Humanity Capital Region. She worked on exterior home repairs for a local disabled veteran and single father, including pouring concrete for a sidewalk and hanging vinyl siding. 

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“Before Habitat for Humanity got involved, the roof and windows leaked in several areas. Anytime it rained, the home had water leaking in several spots,” Melissa said. “The homeowner was great to work with and I felt he truly appreciated the work being done making his house a home.”

GreenStone team members live and work in the rural and agricultural communities our members love. We are dedicated to actively working with these communities helping them grow and thrive. Habitat for Humanity is an organization empowering community members all over the world and we are proud to be a part of this initiative. We are grateful to have team members like Melissa, and all of the women who participated in this project serving our local community and those living in it.​


June 13
GreenStone Interns: A Family Legacy

​​This year’s class of student interns are well underway in their summer projects here at GreenStone. We are pleased to share their stories and unique perspectives in our intern series. Keep an eye out for more blogs featuring GreenStone’s summer interns!

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Justin Webster

As a farm kid growing up around dairy farms, I have an extensive background in agriculture. This plays an enormous role in my future aspirations. The agricultural industry is all I have ever known, and I do not foresee myself leaving anytime soon. Although I have always known I want to pursue a career in agriculture, I knew incorporating my interest in numbers was necessary. This is where GreenStone came in. GreenStone allows me to nurture my passion for agriculture and put my accounting major to use outside of the Michigan State University classrooms where I spend my time during the school year. As a second-year credit intern with GreenStone, I am working on a peer comparison project focusing on the dairy industry. By looking at data used for this project, my team and I compare dairy operations of similar sizes and analyze why one may be thriving while the other may be struggling. This real-life experience with data analysis is incredibly valuable as I continue into my final year in school.

 

When the time came to apply for internships and the GreenStone name appeared during my search, I knew I had to apply. I had a base knowledge of what GreenStone provides, since my grandmother was on the board of directors for 20 years. I knew it was a financial association specifically dedicated to helping rural communities and agriculture; in fact, it was the only agricultural financial association I knew. It took my first summer interning, however, to realize the company offers much more. Even as an intern, I have responsibilities and opportunities allowing me to make an impact on the company, such as riding along on customer visits with financial services officers. GreenStone also offers its interns opportunities to job shadow employees outside of their department. This allows for a greater understanding of the company, as well as providing an opportunity for interns to reflect on what kind of full-time career is best for them. Reflection and growth opportunities such as these are invaluable in an internship setting and really are what set this internship program apart from others.

The friendly, dedicated and supportive team surrounding me daily motivate me to learn as much as possible while I am here. My family’s farm has been around for almost 100 years, and I want to be there to help it grow and succeed in the next 100 years. I believe my experiences here at GreenStone will help me do just that.​


 

June 12
The Employer Brand

​This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Partners:

A strategic tool to give your farm business a leg up on the competition

By Beth Barker, SPHR
Chief Human Resources Officer

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In today’s competitive agriculture environment, finding and keeping good employees can keep you up at night. Turnover and training costs your business valuable time and money. So what is a small business owner to do? Define your employer brand and weave it into your recruiting efforts, training programs, compensation and benefits package, and work environment. Once you do that, you have given your farm a leg up on the competition.

An employer brand is essentially what the business communicates to potential and current employees about what it is like to work there. It is similar to and compliments your marketplace brand. It is grounded in your history, mission, values, culture and personality. A positive employer brand communicates that your farm is a good employer and a great place to work. Your employer brand affects recruitment of new employees as well as retention, job satisfaction, and productivity of managers and workers alike.
 
To develop an employment branding strategy, think about the following:
 

What do you love about your farm business?

As you think about your business vision, mission and values, write down your farm’s unique attributes. Define what your company stands for. Understand your organization’s objectives and what talent is needed to accomplish those objectives. Your employer brand should capture the essence of your company in a way that is exciting and engages employees and stakeholders.

What is your employer value proposition?
 

Today, employees want to know “what’s in it for me?” Specifically, what are the benefits of working for your farm over all the others? Ask your best staff members what they like about working for you? Today’s employees they like about working for you? Today’s employees are looking for
1) respectful treatment of all employees at all levels; 2) fair and equitable pay; 3) trust between employees and management; 4) job security; and
5) opportunities to use their skills and abilities on the job.

Develop an employee marketing strategy.
 

Your efforts should focus on two areas. The first is attracting future employees whose knowledge, skills, work ethic and attitude are a good fit for your business. Pay attention to the words and adjectives you use if you have a recruiting site, social media or other external recruiting sources. The second centers on consistently communicating your employer value proposition to current employees to retain and engage them. Consider using employee testimonials in your advertising and training materials. Capitalize on any and all community service activities that your farm participates in. All of your general marketing, advertising and support of the community youth programs like 4-H and FFA will translate to your employer brand.

Finally, ensure that your management practices support your employer brand. Training, coaching, compensation and other HR-related practices can be used to support the brand. As you onboard new employees, clearly communicate your values and discuss specific work behaviors that do and do not correspond to your expectations. Keep tabs on your pay levels. As the economy has improved, wages have risen. You do not want to lose good employees over small increases in pay. Pay satisfaction is tied to pay level, pay structure and raises. Competitive pay levels won’t keep good employees if the work environment is poor. Your business must hit the sweet spot between good work environment and fair pay.
 

In summary, job candidates want to be a part of something meaningful, something bigger than themselves. A job in the agriculture field is naturally one that lends itself to that. If your employer brand and employee value proposition can demonstrate that they will be paid fairly, develop new skills and be treated well, the time and money you save in turnover turns to profit. As an employer of choice, you will reap the rewards for retention, productivity and employee satisfaction, which are ultimately reflected in savings for the bottom line. ■

June 11
Get the Inside Right!

The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl​​

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Recently, I was traveling through South Dakota for a series of producer meetings. The drive from Deadwood to Pierre and through Cottonwood, population of nine, was picturesque and impressive for those who love agriculture. In a workout room that overlooked the Missouri River, I noticed a quote on the wall that said, “Get the inside right and the outside will take care of itself.”​

While this quote is talking about our health, it could also be appropriate for agriculture. In today’s world, there is considerable noise from social media and other sources of constant information. More often than not, data streams detract and distract one from the more important components of business and life. While it is important to be aware of what is happening around us, building one’s internal fortitude is equally as vital.

As the economic reset rolls along, the focus on the internal components, or the “controllables,” elevates in importance and priority. Thus, let’s take a look at what some of the controllables might involve.

First, working off a good set of records in production, marketing and finance is a very good step. As one of my business partners says, “I want to have the current business status at my fingertips at any point in time.” Remember, a good record system clearly illustrates current cash flow as well as cash flow for the next six months.

Similarly, one must know the limitations on financial leverage or debt. This can be monitored with the debt-to-asset ratio, or the term debt-to-EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are paid) ratio. These metrics are essential in expansion, transition and ongoing operations.

Getting the inside right is also knowing the cost of production dynamics so that marketing windows can be taken on a timely basis. Whether for grain, meat or milk, these short marketing windows require the ability to execute a plan. This approach may not provide a net boom, but rather will deliver in incremental profits. However, even just 5 percent better is still an advantage when compared to others.

Most often, when people “get it right” they do not do it alone. In other words, assistance may be required. For example, it is a common practice in the fitness world to hire a personal coach; and the same should be said for the business world. Using a team of advisors to assist and provide counsel for tweaks and adjustments is essential for financially fit management.

On another day of sessions in South Dakota, I ran past the Big River where Lewis and Clark navigated their way to find the Northwest Passage. They planned and executed through extreme noise from weather to terrain and human encounters. They, too, depended on an advisor, Sacagawea, to guide them through that noise. In fact, her guidance was so profound and valuable, statues in her honor are among the most common monuments in America. In many ways, their journey was built on getting the inside right, and perhaps agriculture can benefit from their wisdom.


Dr. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Dr. Kohl has traveled over 8 million miles throughout his professional career and has conducted more than 6,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FSA, and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 1,300 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications.

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June 08
GreenStone in the Community: Jump Rope for Heart

​Engaging in local activities is one way GreenStone gives back to places where we work and live. Our employees carry out our passion for community engagement through a variety of activities both as GreenStone representatives and as volunteers – we are pleased to tell their stories here. Watch for upcoming stories of how our employees give back in our Open Fields blog! 

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It is alarming each year over 600,000 American men and women die of heart disease. What is even more disheartening, children also suffer from the condition. Jump Rope for Heart is an annual fundraiser held throughout the country benefitting the American Heart Association, where funds specifically go toward helping children with heart-related illnesses. Last month, Dieck Elementary School in Swartz Creek, Michigan hosted a Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser where students celebrated the hard work put into collecting donations throughout the weeks prior. The kids spent the afternoon outside participating in six different activity stations, all focusing on being active and maintaining heart health.

Gina Siegrist, whose daughter attends Dieck Elementary, is a customer service representative at GreenStone’s Lapeer branch. Gina is involved with this event each year, performing tasks like setting up, cleaning up and swinging the jump ropes with her husband at one of the stations.

“I have been volunteering at Jump Rope for Heart for six years and it is always such a fun event,” Gina said. “The kids love being outside, and it is great they are learning about the importance of staying active and keeping healthy.”

GreenStone grants employees time throughout each year to spend volunteering and helping with their kid’s school activities. This is one way GreenStone encourages community involvement through its company culture.

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This year, the students at Dieck Elementary raised over $5,000 for the American Heart Association. While having fun and learning jump roping skills was a great way of spending an afternoon at school, the theme of the day was empowering the kids to act as advocates for their peers with special hearts.

“The kids were happy knowing their fun day outside meant they were helping someone their age battling a heart condition,” Gina said.

While fundraising, the kids learned life-long lessons of working together and contributing to the community welfare. It is humbling when young kids display such empathy, kindness and open-mindedness towards others who they may never meet. Something as large and complex as heart disease can be difficult to comprehend, even for adults, but the students use the fundraiser as a way of celebrating the strength of their peers with special hearts. This is something we can all learn from and applaud.

Source: http://american.heart.org/jump-hoops/ 

June 07
Meet the 2018 Summer Interns

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Although the first day of summer is still technically yet to come, GreenStone’s summer interns are well underway in their positions across multiple locations. A group of 14 student interns joined GreenStone’s team for the summer months covering an array of different departments. Get to know this summer’s class ​​​of interns below​​​!

Colton Vrable

Hometown: Chesaning, Mich.
Title: Appraisal Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Economics
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys traveling, hiking and the outdoors

Devon Davidson
Hometown: Shepherd, Mich.
Title: Legal Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Statistics, minoring in actuarial science and economics
Hobby or Fun Fact: Plays the trombone in the Michigan State University Marching Band

Kaylyn Turland
Hometown: Otisville, Mich.
Title: Crop Insurance Intern
Branch: Little Chute
College: Kansas State University
Major: Agricultural economics, specializing in Agronomy
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys fishing, hunting, camping and anything outdoors

Haley Chapleski
Hometown: Au Gres, Mich.
Title: Human Resources Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Human Resource Management
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys living on a lake and loves to travel

Benjamin Littlejohn
Hometown: Sanarac, Mich.
Title: Commercial Lending Unit Credit Intern
Branch: Grand Rapids
College: Michigan State University
Major: Finance
Hobby or Fun Fact: Has a goal of visiting and hiking all of the national parks

Justin Webster
Hometown: Elsie, Mich.
Title: Commercial Lending Unit Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Accounting
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys traveling with his grandparents and golfing

Rebekah Wilbert
Hometown: Freedom, Wis.
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: Little Chute
College: Associate’s degree from Fox Valley Tech in Agri-business and Science Technologies, currently attending St. Norbert College
Major: Business Management
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys horseback riding

Brandon Tanner
Hometown: Springport, Mich.
Title: Country Living Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Central Michigan University
Major: Business Administration Economics
Hobby or Fun Fact: Currently teaching himself to play blues music on the harmonica

Robert Heinbokel
Hometown: Petoskey, Mich.
Title: Application Developer Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Ferris State University
Major: Computer Information Systems
Hobby or Fun Fact: Spent four years in Los Angeles working in audio and music

Marisa Kimerer
Hometown: Britton, Mich.
Title: Communications Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Communication, minoring in Sales Leadership
Hobby or Fun Fact: Loves spending time with her family and trying out cool restaurants

Eric Washkovick
Hometown: Princeton, Wis.
Title: Appraisal Intern
Branch: Little Chute
College: University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh
Major: Business Management, with an emphasis in Project Management
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys woodworking

Joseph Murray
Hometown: Sheboygan, Wis.
Title: Tax and Accounting Intern
Branch: Little Chute
College: University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
Major: Accounting
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys traveling and learning new things

Emily Harke
Hometown: Adrian, Mich.
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Iowa State University
Major: Agricultural Business, minoring in Animal Science
Hobby or Fun Fact: Loves spending time with friends and family at her family’s lake house, and can twirl three ice cream cones in one hand at a time

Gowan Baldwin
Hometown: Kalamazoo, Mich.
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: Grand Rapids
College: Valparaiso University
Major: Finance and Economics
Hobby or Fun Fact: Enjoys closely following financial markets

June 06
How to Keep Kids Reading This Summer

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of Partners:

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With the end of the school year in sight, you may be wondering about the best ways to keep your children from spending too much time in front of the television or with their favorite gadget, and with a good book instead. Experts say that without practicing their reading skills through the summer months, children can drop multiple reading levels, so it is important to encourage them to pick up a good book.

Getting Started
 
Start small to limit pushback and lower the chances of burning out. Try simple things like having younger children read a grocery list or a short quote of the day, and older children read a short story as they wind down later in the day. Making summer reading fun and something your kids look forward to is important. Make a trip to your local bookstore or library to stock your bookshelf with books your children may not have the chance to read during the school year.

Make it a Family Effort
 
Showing your kids the value of reading starts by spending time reading yourself. Kids will be more encouraged to read if they see their parents reading as well. Reading to your children or having them read to you is also beneficial. Try changing your voice as you read different characters and pausing at the end of sentences to create more excitement.

Incorporate Games and Hobbies
 
Spice up family game night from classic board games to a book-inspired game of your own. Have your children read a set of books or stories, then create a set of questions based off them. Ask questions that begin with, “In what book did…” or “Which character said…” This game can be just for fun if game nights tend to turn into a family feud, or competition-style for more competitive kiddos. 
 
Get Out in the Community
 
There are many local opportunities during the summertime for kids to enjoy reading. Signing your younger kids up for reading circles and activities at your public library is a great way to keep them engaged. You can also encourage your older kids and teenagers to form a book club with their friends and meet periodically at a local café or park to discuss what they have been reading.

 
June 04
Benefits of Business Planning

The Ag Globe Trotter by Dr. Dave Kohl​​

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Previously, we focused on the challenges and remedies of business planning based on a breakout session at a conference for young and beginning farmers. As a follow up to that discussion, another young producer asked the group to enumerate the benefits of business planning.

Think Big 
One producer spoke up and shared that business planning had challenged him to “think big.” As he began the planning process, he first needed a vision, or a mission statement, to anchor his goals. In his experience, business planning gave life to his aspirations inside a logical, realistic timeframe that stretched from the next year to five and 10 years into the future. Joined by others in the group, this producer said that business planning energized him and the business.

Be Reasonable 
While business planning allows one to “think big” on paper, reality quickly sets in when one must think through the impacts and limitations of resources such as land, labor, capital and, to some extent, management. The development of a business plan establishes boundaries and parameters within the realities of the market, financials and life pursuits.

 
Goals
Of those who had previously completed the business planning process, many indicated that one of the biggest benefits was setting goals. In fact, knowing the business and personal goals of partners, parents and spouses brings a sense of relief. Additionally, established goals brought clarity and transparency both relationally and for the business. This part of the process helped bridge the gap between execution and the discipline needed to execute. There is an old saying “after you create the plan, then you’ve got to work the plan” which is very applicable to this process.

 
Family Unity
As an added benefit, many indicated the process brought their families together. This process required the family to think through and develop its history, establish its goals, and discuss how much financial leverage was comfortable. And even for those who discovered family interests were at odds, the family relations seemed to relax once these realizations were made.

 
Finally, the benefit of business planning is that it requires individuals to work on the business rather than just working in the business. Matching the energy and passion of dreams with the focus and clarity of goals, business planning paves the way for a successful, sustainable business as well as lasting family and business relations.
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June 01
GreenStone in the Community: Ag Awareness Day

​Engaging in local activities is one way GreenStone gives back to places where we work and live. Our employees carry out our passion for community engagement through a variety of activities both as GreenStone representatives and as volunteers – we are pleased to tell their stories here. Watch for upcoming stories of how our employees give back in our Open Fields blog!

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Grade school students around Michigan are itching to get out into the sunshine and feel the warm breeze of sweet summertime. Often it is difficult keeping kids focused toward the end of the school year, especially the younger kids. Cue school field trips! Around 600 first and second grade students in Van Buren County spent a day at Hartford fairgrounds experiencing agriculture in all its shapes and forms at Ag Awareness Day. This event exposes students to various aspects of agriculture including livestock, horticulture and other crops.

Emelee Rajzer, a financial services officer at GreenStone’s Schoolcraft branch, spent the day teaching a horticulture and floriculture station. She worked with students planting either a Begonia or Marigold in a take-home flowerpot. Saying, “The kids were excited and eager to learn something new.” High school students from a local agriculture and natural resources class were involved with the event as well by helping at each station and serving as a mentor for the younger kids. 
 
“The kids were so excited and eager to pot their own plant,” Emelee said. “The high school students loved interacting with the younger kids. It really helped rekindle the older students’ love for agriculture.”
 
Some of the elementary students are familiar with all things agriculture experiencing it first-hand in their daily lives. Some students have never experienced any kind of agriculture. Events like these are important in teaching kids from all different backgrounds about Michigan agriculture and the variety it offers.
 

“It was really amazing seeing the kids being immersed in agriculture. We could not have done it without all the support of community members and volunteers,” Emelee said.

Thank you to all the agriculture and natural resources students and industry people who made this event possible! 

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