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May 24
We've Got You Covered

An interview with Ben Mahlich, GreenStone's VP of Crop Insurance

Ben_M_alt_4_16.jpgTell Us a Little About Yourself: I grew up in a small farming community in central Michigan where my grandfather had a small dairy farm. After graduating from Michigan State University, I worked in Texas, then moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to trade stocks and commodities before returning to my home state and beginning my career with GreenStone in 2002. I enjoy spending time with my wife, daughter, and son, mainly in the outdoors fishing, water sports and playing soccer.

Tell Us a Little About Your Role with GreenStone: While at Farm Credit I have held numerous roles including credit analyst, VP of Capital Markets, VP of Rural Markets, Director of Risk Assets, Regional VP of Sales and Customer Relations, to my current role of VP of Crop Insurance. In my current position, I am a resource to our crop insurance team and help ensure our team is educated on all of the products in order for them to be able to provide the best risk management solutions to our customers.

Why Are You a Strong Supporter of Insurance? Having spent most of my career on the lending side of our business, I have seen the benefits of having crop insurance available to all commodities. For example, in 2012 when there was a devastating frost that affected our members fruit business, we administered disaster loans as insurance was not available for some of the fruits grown in Michigan. Since that time, a new farm bill was passed that helped to insure these commodities so when a natural disaster does occur, the insured has peace of mind knowing they are protected and their farm will survive. 

Crop Insurance is the number one risk mitigation tool for our farmers and not only gives them confidence they can survive if they do not have a crop, it also provides peace of mind for the lender knowing the customer will still be able to service their debt, which allows us to protect all our members from loan losses.

​As published in a recent AgriBank Insurance Newsletter

May 23
Credit Score Basics
By: Ashlee Guerrero
 
Generally, it is well-known a good credit score is important when considering large purchases, such as land or a home. However, exactly where that score comes from, and more importantly, how it is calculated, is less certain among many consumers.
 

In our latest video, GreenStone financial services officer Ashlee Guerrero explains the basics of credit scores, along with what GreenStone is looking for when someone applies for financing for their country home, hunting land, or any other type of loan.

Specifically, she explains how

  • timely payments,
  • length of credit history, and
  • diversity of credit

all add up to determining a credit score.

Ashlee closes by saying, “If I could give one piece of advice about keeping your credit score inline, make your payments on time!”

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9fo-lD_9bo[/youtube]

Get your free copy of your credit report every 12 months: www.annualcreditreport.com

Ashlee Guerrero is a financial services officer at GreenStone's Ann Arbor branch.

May 19
Challenges and Opportunities for Young, Beginning, and Small Farmers

​​By: Ashley den Dulk

Farming is a challenging undertaking, with long days that start early and are filled with physical demands from running the tractor, to calving cows, to fixing equipment, to repairing fence posts. These demands are complicated by the need to stay current on best practices to increase efficiencies and production, and the need to meet the financial requirements of what is a capital-intensive business. These challenges are even more of a hurdle for young, beginning and small farm operators.

In GreenStone Farm Credit Services’ territory - Michigan and northeast Wisconsin - USDA data from the 2012 Ag Census revealed there are 6,650 young farmers under the age of 35; 14,291 beginning farmers who have been in the industry for fewer than 10 years; and 53,987 small farms earning less than $250,000 a year. Clearly, there is a significant population of farmers within these challenging categories in our region.

One of the biggest obstacles young and beginning farmers face is they likely have limited capital to buy or rent land, to purchase equipment, or to acquire inputs like seed and fertilizer. They also typically have limited equity in their farm operations, making it difficult to acquire either an operating line of credit or real estate loan through traditional programs. However, there are steps they can take to improve their ability to qualify for loan funding.

While it is true most farmers in these categories do not have significant capital levels, it is helpful to be able to demonstrate that you are actively managing your debt load and not maxing out your debt capacity. You should be able to show your ability to repay the new debt you are seeking by developing realistic projections of income and expenses, and identifying your breakeven point. This shows the lender you have a strong understanding of your operation and its finances. 

It is also valuable to demonstrate farming experience on an operation similar to your own. This can include working on your family’s farm or gaining mentorship working on another operation. This experience should involve making management decisions, such as which seed varieties to plant and when to apply fertilizer. If you are not filing your own income and expense reports, a letter from the farm owner will suffice to prove your tenure on their operation. The Farm Service Agency (FSA), in particular, requires three years of farming experience. 

Typical loans require collateral as security, usually an asset that can be sold to repay the debt. Young and beginning farmers often may not have sufficient collateral for the loan they need. Having equity built up in the operation is also helpful.  GreenStone works with young and beginning farmers to find solutions in situations where there is limited collateral, and also have special credit standards in place for young, beginning and small farmers that allow lending outside the traditional scope, including reduced owner equity requirements, higher loan to value ratios, and lower working capital requirements.

We also strive to support our young and beginning farmers seeking real estate loans but who have limited cash for a down payment. In these cases, we work closely with the FSA to help our borrower-owners access FSA real estate loan programs that require only 5 percent down payment from the borrower; GreenStone then covers 50 percent of the purchase as a 30-year fixed rate loan, and FSA covers 45 percent at 1.5 percent. We work to make it easy for our borrower, sharing relevant documentation with FSA to reduce duplicate efforts, making the necessary introductions and facilitating the loan process.

When working with young, beginning and small farmers who are utilizing one of our special programs, GreenStone may add some additional conditions to the loan to reduce our own risk and protect our other borrower-owners. For example, we may require these borrowers to provide us an annual balance sheet and tax return so we can ensure we’re on the same financial page, or require that payment checks when a crop is sold are made out to both the farmer and GreenStone so we can help ensure that the borrower is managing their cash flow appropriately for long-term success as they’re learning during the early stages of their operation.

GreenStone is committed to supporting customers’ success beyond the finances. Last year, we launched a mentorship program that connects experienced borrower-owners with those just starting out. The Farm Forward Mentorship program entails a GreenStone-facilitated introduction and training, followed by one-on-one calls and meetings between the mentor and mentee. The goal of the 18-month program is to share the insights and lessons learned by successful farmers in the same industry as the newer farmer, to offer an outside perspective, and to serve as a sounding board for new plans and ideas. 

Young, beginning and small farmers should also actively seek education and knowledge about their industry sector. For example, those raising grain need to understand the forwards market, pricing, market volatility and risk mitigation strategies against this volatility and to protect against crop losses. This learning can come from seminars, training sessions, commodity groups and other experienced farmers. GreenStone’s experienced staff can also be a resource for advice, and for business services such as setting up an accounting system for the operation. 

All in all, to be best positioned to qualify for future capital needs, young, beginning, and small farmers should always work to strengthen their financial management, build their credit by carrying limited debt, and improve their personal credit score through consistently meeting their payment obligations on time. ​

Ashley den Dulk is a financial services officer with GreenStone Farm Credit Services.

May 15
Farm Credit System Provides Certainty During Down Cycle

By: Dave Armstrong

During the past two years, farmers in Michigan and throughout the nation have faced a significant economic downturn, seeing lower prices for their goods following a decade or more of strong commodity prices. No doubt, a career in agriculture comes with significant uncertainty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service recently forecast the fourth straight year of decline in Net Farm Income (NFI), a key growth indicator. That’s a significant turnaround from the record NFI most farms experienced just a few years ago.

It is important to note, however, the low prices projected by most economists haven’t yet reached the “crisis” point that was seen across America in the mid-1980s. That’s due to many different factors – including the disciplined lending practices in place within our federal Farm Credit System, designed to protect family farmers.

During downturns like this one, credit is still key, which is why it’s more important than ever for the Farm Credit System to continue following core principles that help farmers.

Created by Congress in 1916, the Farm Credit System was created to provide a dependable, affordable source of lending for agriculture. The network of producer-owned financial cooperatives was built on the belief that by working together, farmers would be stronger financially and well-positioned to grow. In Michigan and northeast Wisconsin, our cooperative, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, is part of that national Farm Credit System.

Regardless of the size of operation or the products grown, access to stable credit is important for many successful farming operations. Farmers rely on credit to make investments in their business, manage growing season expenditures, hedge against risk and maintain strong balance sheets.

Before making a loan, Farm Credit lenders work closely with farmers and rural business owners to review current financial information and ensure strong business planning. This proactive approach helps improve the quality of decisions and ultimately the success of the farmer.

Second, proactive communication helps farmers more successfully weather these inevitable downturns.

A significant advantage of working with Farm Credit is working with a local staff in rural communities who have real-life agricultural experience and regularly work with borrowers through training and education programs, community events, and beyond. This focus on relationships helps open and maintain lines of communication that can make all the difference during times of financial stress.

Finally, the proactive work we’ve done with farmers during previous upticks in the farm economy has proved beneficial for them. During periods of higher prices and income, we focus on helping our clients ensure they are in a position to be well-capitalized over the long term. As a result, the debt-to-income ratio among many farmers remains strong, thanks to good planning on the part of our borrowers.

Thanks to these factors, and the smart business decisions by our dedicated and hardworking farmers, the overwhelming majority of GreenStone’s loans remain healthy, even during today’s low commodity prices. This is an important factor, given that every loan we make impacts the overall financial health of our 24,000-member cooperative.

The agricultural outlook may be challenging, but these tough times are precisely why Farm Credit System lenders like GreenStone were created -- to keep agriculture going strong now and for years to come.

Dave Armstrong, GreenStone's President and CEO, provides his thoughts related to the value of the Farm Credit System, as published in the Lansing State Journal on May 14, 2017.

May 09
Volunteers Help Plant Trees at Hantz Farms in Detroit

​On Saturday, May 6, a group of volunteers from GreenStone traveled from East Lansing to Detroit to plant trees in the city for the fourth year. As part of the Hantz Farms Annual Planting Day, volunteers helped plant hundreds of trees in the on-going effort to turn blight into beauty. The recent rains made it a soggy job, but the sky was clear and everyone enjoyed pitching in to help!

18222042_10155092733626071_5318332460392583806_n.jpg 

The group of GreenStone volunteers at the annual Hantz Farms Planting Day.

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Vice president of technical services, Bob Check, and Michelle Bartkovich, controller, work together to plant trees in Detroit. 

18300885_10155092733726071_6763911651905621222_n.jpg
Trees planted by GreenStone volunteers​ in vacant Detroit lots.





April 21
Landscaping Your New Construction

The planning process for building your new home started months ago with finding the perfect land and then the perfect blueprint… now your house is move-in ready and the only thing left to do is unpack and enjoy. 

Once you’ve settled in and had some time to adjust to your new home, your thoughts will naturally turn to all the finishing touches that make a house a home – and during this time of year, that means patio projects, flowers and landscape, and gardening. 

CountryHomeAndYard.jpg
 

Before you launch into a grand scale outdoor plan for your new home, take a moment to read over these three points first. 

1. Do Your Research

Before you plant that first peony, stop to think about the scale of your landscape and prioritize your needs and wants. Write a list of what you would ideally like to have and then ask yourself an important question. Do you love to get your hands dirty outside or are you more of a low yard maintenance type? Based on that answer, do some research on the care needed for the specific types of flowers and shrubs you’d like to include in your home’s landscape. If your idea of a perfect Saturday includes weeding, pruning and watering, then the sky is the limit. If not, consider an option that will require only basic seasonal maintenance. 

2. Prepare and Plant 

Once you have identified the types of plants that work for your local climate, how many plants you will need and where to put them, the real work starts. Prepare your flower beds by making sure the soil is the perfect growing environment for your chosen foliage. Most garden supply centers have soil test kits to easily determine the quality of your soil. Most likely, your new beds are going to need some help in order to be hospitable to plant life. One solution may be to add compost to enrich the soil; bagged cow manure is an easy option to get started. After mixing it well into the soil and getting your plants in the ground, top with mulch to maintain moisture and minimize weeds. 

3. Consider the Future

It will be tempting to go all out that first spring season in your new home, but take a few steps back before you do and consider your long term needs. This will help you make good decisions on placement, should you eventually decide to expand the deck, add a play area for the kids, build a pole barn, or achieve your dream vegetable garden. 


 

April 11
GreenStone Hosts Lunch and Learn Event with ACRE AgTech

​GreenStone was pleased to host members of the ACRE AgTech team at our Grand Rapids branch on March 28 for a lunch and learn event. Paul Sachs, executive director, and Doug Huesdash, business development, presented on the organization’s purpose and who they can help.




ACRE connects entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed, furthering the cultivation of emerging technologies for today’s agricultural economy, and leveraging West Michigan’s legacy as one of the most productive agriculture regions in the United States.

GreenStone’s branch team learned more about the organization’s specialization in helping farmers, entrepreneurs and existing businesses commercialize, license, or sell their ag-technology inventions. The types of hands-on, customized business startup services provided include, but are not limited to: validating business concepts; assessing intellectual property; confirming product engineering; preparing business plans and financial pro forma documents; developing markets and distribution channels for products; helping to obtain business financing; and connecting clients with manufacturing and agri-business experts to assist with prototyping and product testing.

GreenStone is proud to partner with such an organization dedicated to advancing agriculture! To learn more, visit ACRE’s website at www.acreagtech.com.

April 11
Reflecting on the WPS Farm Show

By Jeanie Anello​

Like many GreenStone employees, I grew up on a family-owned dairy farm. My parents owned 200 acres and milked about 100 cows, which was an average-sized farm for our area at the time. Our farm consisted of a big red barn with three traditional silos surrounded by acres of green cow and horse pasture – the type of idyllic setting many may still picture when they think of a farm.  I have many fond memories of helping with farm chores such as bottle-feeding newborn calves and helping with hay baling.

WPS Jeanie.jpg

After college I moved away from the farm to live and work in the “big city” for many years. My parents still live on the farm where I grew up, but their place is now just a hobby farm. Thus, I had been removed from production agriculture for quite some time. I recently joined GreenStone as the marketing manager, and while marketing is very familiar to me, I am quickly becoming reacquainted with the agricultural industry. 

After attending the Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) Farm Show recently, I am amazed at how much the farming industry has changed! From what I have seen, the most significant change is the advanced technology now prevalent in the industry. Everything from feeding cattle to cleaning pens to planting and harvesting crops now includes power equipment. Tractors are GPS-driven – and driverless tractors will likely be a reality in the next few years. Bales are less likely to be hand stacked on wagons anymore, more typically managed with forklifts or tractors. There’s no longer a need for a farm kid to deliver a phone message to dad out in the field; in fact, farmers are super-users of cell phone and mobile technology, including ag-related apps. The traditional red wooden barns have aged, and the new barns are built with focus on improved ventilation, bedding and feeding advancements for better animal health and comfort.

A lot has changed in farming in the past couple decades, but some things have stayed the same. The young FFA members at the farm show still appeared to be as enthusiastic, energetic and optimistic as I recalled from my county fair days (with the addition of ever-present cell phones for social media sharing, of course)! Many of the farmer conversations I overheard still centered around the weather, commodity prices, animal husbandry, and what the neighbors are up to – much like during my childhood. A great growing season and favorable weather are still reasons to rejoice, while severe weather and market fluctuations are still reasons to worry.

Farms are still family businesses and kids probably still have daily chores, although I wonder if robotic milking machines have added some flexibility to their social schedules.  And I’m guessing (hoping!) these kids still deliver snacks to their dads in the field sometimes – although their delivery vehicle is likely a quad or a Gator, and not a stubborn Shetland pony!

Jeanie Anello is the marketing manager at GreenStone Farm Credit Services.


April 10
As Commodity Prices Decline, How Does this Downturn Stack Up?

​Paul Anderson, executive vice president and chief credit officer, recently spoke with Ag Leaders of Michigan​ about the current agricultural economic downturn.

PaulAnderson_web.jpg

Anderson says that while commodity prices are low, what we are seeing is actually a return to more normalized prices. "The reality is that we have just gone from abnormal record profitability back to normal profitability," he said.

March 16
Helpful Tools for Stress Management

​Farming ranks as one of the top 10 most stressful occupations in the United States. Each day, farm families face a variety of stressors, such as factors vastly outside of their control, including weather, market prices, livestock disease and equipment failures. While it can be easy to allow these to become overwhelming, it is important to remember that having the right mindset can mean the difference between debilitating stress and productive resiliency. 

Here are three tips to help keep stress in check: 

​1. Use Self-Talk

The body hears what the mind thinks, so choose your thoughts with purpose. Tell yourself that you can overcome any challenge. You can adapt. You have come through rough times before, and you can do it again. You cannot always avoid difficult situations, but you can choose the thoughts you have when experiencing stress. Try choosing three words to repeat to yourself when you want to maintain a positive mindset, for example: calm, capable and controlled. 

2. Use Your Breath

When faced with a challenge, first use your breath. Deep breathing calms the mind and can help you focus. It can also reduce chronic pain and improve sleep. Try breathing deeply five times, releasing the air slowly. Combine deep breathing with positive self-talk to calm your stress and help you stay on task.

3. Use Acceptance 

When things are beyond your control, the most productive step you can take is to accept it. Making acceptance part of your mindset can save you time and energy by letting you focus on the solution instead of getting frustrated by the problem. Try making the word “accept” part of your self-talk and using deep breathing as a time to pause, accept what is and begin problem solving.

Source: Michigan State University Extension ​


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