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July 21
Intern Insights: Interns in the Field

​By: Megan Hughes

One of my favorite parts of my internship here at GreenStone is how often I am able to get out of the office and go on farm visits. These visits complement the work I do in the office by exposing me to other facets of the lending process and helping to further develop my knowledge of the agriculture industry. I have had the opportunity to visit three dairies so far. 
Megan Hughes_17.jpg

The first was on a call with Brent Spencer where we visited a client to see how their home construction project was going, and to see a recently completed barn expansion. Here, I was able to see what a financial services officer might do on a typical call. This experience helped me to understand the value of what we do here at GreenStone. We help our clients to achieve their goals, and that is something that I wouldn’t normally get to see when I am working on financials at the office.​

The second visit was part of Intro to Branch Delivery, a new hire training and development day. In the morning, my group met at the St. Johns branch. While there, the staff of the branch gave a presentation on the roles they play at GreenStone, a little background of GreenStone, and the basic principles of the lending process. In the afternoon, we visited a large dairy nearby. This was particularly exciting because they have a rotary milking parlor. I grew up on a seed farm, so I have very little experience with the dairy industry. The tour of this operation helped provide me with a greater understanding of how dairies operate, which would’ve been hard for me to pick up otherwise.

The final visit that I would like to talk about is probably my favorite so far. The other two commercial lending unit interns and I are working on a peer comparison project. I have spent a few days working out of the Caro branch as that is part of my territory. There, I met Amanda Ruggles, one of the associate appraisers, and she invited me to shadow her on a real estate appraisal for a dairy within the region. It rained the whole morning that we were inspecting the operation. We took measurements of buildings and improvements, and more photos than I can count. The owner of the farm gave us a ride on the Gator around the property and answered any questions that we had, about the land, improvement, and the operation in general. I enjoyed the experience because I got to meet one of the farmers whose file I work on. Once again, this helped me to see the impact that my work at GreenStone has on the agricultural community.​

Megan Hughes is a credit intern with GreenStone.

July 20
Understanding the Use of Collateral

By: Cynthia Cole, senior financial services officer at GreenStone's Ionia branch

Purchasing a home or vacant land is one of the biggest decisions you make. Understanding some of the basics of financing can help ease concerns you may have and properly prepare you for the financing process.

In our latest video blog, I discuss:

  • The use of collateral in financing
  • The difference between a mortgage and a promissory note
  • General cash/collateral to financing ratio
  • How vacant land may be purchased without a down payment

Understanding the use of collateral in financing can help you succeed in making one of your biggest decisions. Watch this video to learn more.



July 18
Supporting Our Communities: Allen Street Farmers Market

Last Wednesday, members of our Mason branch staff spent the afternoon at the Allen Farmers Market in Lansing, Michigan as a sponsor of the event! GreenStone had the opportunity to connect with local residents and the producers who provide the neighborhood with fresh food products. 

Allen Farmers Market.jpg

The first Allen Farmers Market season kicked off in 2004, was just 10 weeks long, and featured four female farmers. Since then, it has grown into a thriving weekly market that provides the neighborhood with access to fresh produce and other delicious products, a friendly atmosphere to visit with neighbors, and opportunities to engage and share diverse resources and perspectives.

Our support to thriving rural communities extends beyond providing financial services. We are committed to getting involved with the neighborhoods we serve. Big or small, GreenStone supports all agriculture, and sustainable markets, such as the Allen Farmers Market, shows the power that agriculture can have to bring people together to build rural-urban connections and strengthen communities.​

You can now find the Allen Farmers Market year-round, located at 1629 E. Kalamazoo Street, either inside the Allen Market Place building from November – early May, or outside in the parking lot on the corner of Kalamazoo and Allen Streets from mid-May through October.​

For the Market’s mission, volunteer opportunities and more visit www.allenneighborhoodcenter.org/market/​.​

July 13
Intern Insights: Why I Chose GreenStone

By: Colin Cook

When I started looking for a summer internship, there were a few standards I set for myself. First, I wanted to do something that would force me out of my comfort zone. Secondly, I wanted the internship to teach me about something that would help me in my future endeavors. Third, I was seeking an internship that could potentially be a future career for me. All of this contributed to why I was thrilled when I received the call offering the internship with GreenStone. 

Colin Cook_17.jpg

I am currently a senior at Northwood University. I will be graduating in the fall with a major in management and a minor in economics. I knew from a very young age that I would be working in the business field.

For the last seven years, I have worked on a large beef operation in Huron County. This is where my interest in farming kindled. I became very familiar with operating large machinery and much of what goes into carrying a steer from calf to fat. Every so often, I would see a GreenStone representative on the farm, in fact, that is how I first learned of the internship program. I was very interested in all the different services GreenStone offers farmers. Finance has always been one of my strongest subjects, from high school and through college. I thought that it would be perfect to work for a company where my prior work experience can help me with what I will be doing in the future.​​

Colin Cook is a credit intern with GreenStone.

July 10
The 2017 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards Winners Unveiled

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced its sixth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards in Chicago last month. The program recognizes dairy farms, businesses and partnerships whose practices improve the well-being of people, animals and the planet.​​​ 

From left: Matt Oesch and Annie Link representing SwissLane Farms; Kyle Powell representing Kroger Company of Michigan, Ken Nobis and Sheila Burkhardt representing MMPA; and William Kerr, Joseph Mounger and Cathy Blankenship representing Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

GreenStone customer SwissLane Farms, of Alto, Michigan, won a national award for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability​; one of three winners in that category. The operation is 23 miles from downtown Grand Rapids, the second-largest city in the state, which poses both pressures from urban sprawl and opportunities to reach people several generations removed from the farm.

Since 2006, SwissLane’s Dairy Discovery program has offered farm tours, reaching more than 36,000 students, teachers and families. They have plenty to demonstrate when it comes to sustainable practices. After a farm energy audit, they made improvements that reduced energy costs by 17% per cow. They also took steps to become verified through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program so neighbors continue to see results.​

Congratulations, SwissLane Farms!

Meet the other award winners by visiting Undeniably Dairy's website.

July 05
Intern Insights: Why I Chose GreenStone

​By: Zachary Ward

As I stand at the eve of my senior year at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and celebrate a little over a month here at GreenStone, it seems like the subjects at the forefront of my mind have been accounting, finance, and brainstorming ways to key information faster. These past three years have been about establishing myself in business world, but seldom have I taken time to deeply reflect on how agriculture has played a role in my success and shaped my character.​

As cheesy as it may sound, I remember walking through GVSU’s Mackinac Hall and stumbling on a painting that stopped me dead in my tracks: a row of cherry trees in full bloom, caught in the middle of a gentle breeze. Suddenly I was back home, lounging on the front porch of my parent’s home in Elk Rapids, and gazing out at an entire field of the crop that continues to define Michigan’s identity. My small town (and obviously its neighbor, Traverse City) have been shaped by agriculture, from its art to its tourism industry. Fond memories of my friends and I attending concerts at the National Cherry Festival or my family splitting a pound of cherries bought from a local farm on the drive home from town, with nothing left but a pile of pits by the time we pull in the driveway. 

My exposure to the Michigan’s cherry industry grew exponentially when I began my employment at Great Lakes Packing Company (GLPC) in Kewadin. I was initially hired in as a line captain, whose responsibilities included making sure employees at end of the production line are stocked with bags, lids, sugar, syrup, and other necessary inputs. Over the three summers I spent with GLPC, I shifted around a number of different positions, each teaching me a new aspect of the packing process. In production control, I helped management determine the speed the fruit gets sorted, destemmed, and pitted and amounts of cherries that would come off the line in a given period, logging these statistics for future decision making. My favorite position, however, was as the raw product receiver. More autonomy, a handful of job responsibilities such as creating receiving logs and taking pesticide samples, and the opportunity to work outside were incentive enough to keep me in the position for two summers. 

More than anything though, I admired the sense of ambition and close bonds that were commonplace at the plant. I attended school with the local growers’ children/nieces/nephews I interacted with, so we already had a common connection. When it came to the other employees, I felt like part of a family (which helps when everyone is spending 10+ hours together). Much of the staff belonged to one of two families that helped found the company, so everyone was motivated since they had a personal stake in the company’s history.

That’s what I love so much about GreenStone. From the short time I’ve been here, that strong sense of friendship, and even family, seems to exist between many of the appraisers, analysts, and other individuals here. Community comes second nature to the organization’s staff, who regularly makes appearances in community events and programs like Farm Forward Mentorship to help pass on values and relevant skillsets onto the next generation. Similar to the many farmers and ranchers they service, GreenStone has been around generations, recently celebrating 100 years. 

Many assume that those choosing a finance career path squarely focus on profit while disregarding servant business practices. Here at GreenStone, I’ve heard story after story about people seeing the positive change they’re making through helping farmers advance their business. That sort of meaningful work is why I’m studying business in the first place. ​

Zachary Ward is a credit intern at GreenStone's Grand Rapids branch.

June 28
Home Appraisal Basics

By: Joe Hickey

An appraisal is a normal step in the course of a property purchase – for homes and land! In this video blog, GreenStone’s chief appraiser provides a glimpse into the seemingly obscure appraisal process used to provide you that final dollar value!

He helps answer:

  • What is the process used to determine a proper appraised value?
  • Are there options when the appraised value is lower than the purchase price?
  • How does the appraisal process differ when it is for home construction?
  • What resources can a consumer use to do their own research?

From visiting the property to researching equitable comparison properties, listen in as Joe explains some of the basics of his appraisal process!


June 26
Meet the 2017 GreenStone Interns

​GreenStone welcomes ​​ten student interns for the summer, providing each with the opportunity to sharpen their skills in their respective career field. Seven of the interns are based in our East Lansing office, two students are at the Grand Rapids branch, and one is located in our Little Chute location.  

For nearly 10 years, GreenStone’s internship program has been focused on providing college students with real-world experience to coincide with their education. Students take part in the same hiring process as our full-time employees, applying online to their desired position and going through the complete evaluation process. Intern selection is based on experience and aptitude, with an emphasis on performance in the classroom, extracurricular activities, and involvement in the community.

Each intech intern will work approximately 14 weeks in their position before returning to school for the fall semester.

The summer 2017 class of interns includes:

Colin Cook; Harbor Beach, Michigan
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: Grand Rapids
College: Northwood University
Major: Management
Hobbies: Waterfowl hunting and fishing
Internship goal: “I hope to gain more knowledge about the agricultural field.”

Jake Gorter; Traverse City, Michigan
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Economics
Hobbies: Football, soccer and chess
Internship goal: “I would like to gain a better understanding of the agricultural industry and how it interacts with the world of finance.”

Annah Horrack; Fowler, Michigan
Title: Graphic Design Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Central Michigan University
Major: Graphic design, art history minor
Hobbies: Anything on the water: swimming, kayaking, boating, fishing, spending time with friends, and creative outlets such as design, drawing, and painting
Internship goals: “I am hoping to gain a better sense and understanding of GreenStone, as well as the brand guidelines that belong to the corporation. In addition, portfolio pieces and a great work experience to take into my senior year and future career. “

Emily House; Webberville, Michigan
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Animal science and accounting
Hobbies: Welding and fabricating, volleyball, softball and livestock
Internship goal: “I am hoping to gain knowledge and experience to strengthen my skill set for my future career.”

Megan Hughes; Woodstock, Illinois
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Agribusiness management and economics
Hobbies: Tennis and economics
Internship goal: “I would like to learn more about finance applications and the Farm Credit System.”

Aubrey Netzel; Clintonville, WI
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: Little Chute
College: Concordia University - Wisconsin
Major: Finance and Economics, Master's in Management
Hobbies: Running
Internship goal: "I hope to use the knowledge gained from my courses in the real world and to learn more about what products and services GreenStone offers."

Jamie VanDerZanden; Pentwater, Michigan
Title: Crop Insurance Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Agribusiness management
Hobbies: Running, softball, horseback riding and hiking
Internship goal: “I hope to obtain knowledge about the agricultural industry that will benefit me in my future career.”

Zackary Ward; Bellaire, Michigan
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: Grand Rapids
College: Grand Valley State University
Major: Finance and business economics
Hobbies: Fencing, reading and tennis
Internship goal: “To learn how the topics I have studied fit into Farm Credit and the agricultural industry as whole.”

Justin Webster; Elise, Michigan
Title: Credit Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Michigan State University
Major: Accounting
Hobbies: Basketball and golf
Internship goal: “I want to learn more about the loan process farmers go through and how they gain approval for loans.”

Jordan Zimmerman; Standish, Michigan
Title: Tax and Accounting Intern
Branch: East Lansing
College: Saginaw Valley State University
Major: Accounting
Hobbies: Reading, volleyball and my cat
Internship goal: “I hope to gain more knowledge and skills in the department, as well as a network of great people.”

June 19
Dairy: An Unenviable Position

​By: Benjamin Spitzley

The dairy industry is facing a challenging time, a cyclical downturn that has lasted longer than in previous cycles, and that is expected to continue for at least the near-term. 

The predominant factor behind the current status is simple market mechanics: there is an abundance of supply relative to demand. This has pushed down average milk prices to levels that do not cover production costs. In short, many dairy operations are running in the red, and have been since 2015.​

This situation arose from increased demand in the years leading up to 2014, which raised prices and encouraged dairy operators to expand their herds to increase production. In Michigan, for example, the dairy industry has grown by 72 percent since 2004, and the industry added 12,000 cows in 2016 alone, a year when the average producer was losing money. Wisconsin has likewise seen considerable production growth of 2.3 billion pounds in just the last 2 years. Nationally, the USDA reports that herd size is continuing to increase despite the lack of profitability, from 9,328,000 cows in 2016 to 9,385,000 in 2017. While supply has thus increased, and continues to increase, demand has not kept pace, creating a surplus of milk in the market. There is also a glut in the global market as other nations increased their production to meet demand; combined with the strengthening of the U.S. dollar and trade uncertainty, there has been reduced demand for U.S. dairy exports, which traditionally represented 15 percent of our nation’s dairy production. 

Exacerbating the situation in Michigan is a dearth of processing capacity, which has not increased in line with milk production. This puts producers in the unenviable position of needing to market their milk out-of-state, where processing is available, adding transportation costs and additional marketing costs to their already challenged cash flows. The erosion of revenue is significant: in 2004, Michigan’s dairy farmers were being paid 25 cents more than the U.S. average per hundredweight; last year, they were paid $1 less than the national average. Adding processing capacity will be paramount to protecting dairy producers against these additional costs.​

Wisconsin producers have benefited from more access to milk processing and have not been impacted as severely as Michigan with the added transportation and marketing costs.  In fact, Wisconsin producers are earning an average of $2 more per hundredweight than their Michigan counterparts. However, processing capacity appears to be getting tighter. The recent closure of a Canadian milk processor to Wisconsin milk that left 72 farms temporarily stranded without processing underscores how critical access to processing is.

Many producers are facing the likelihood of a third year of low or little profit. Fortunately, the period before this downturn was highly profitable and most producers built strong balance sheets with high levels of working capital, positioning them to withstand the current cycle.

Over time, the market will balance itself out, as supply and demand draw closer together and processing capacity is added. In the meantime, producers need to take a hard look at their operations and their financials. Producing a high quality product with good components will support a better price and better marketing options. Producers should strive to tighten overhead with a careful eye to reducing costs and streamlining operations. Every asset should be examined to determine if it is producing enough revenue to justify keeping it – whether the asset be surplus heifers, or a two-year inventory of feed. In short, if you cannot afford the asset, scale it back or sell it off. Any capital investment needs to be carefully scrutinized, with a complete Return on Investment (ROI) analysis to ensure it will add to the bottom line.

It is also critical to maintain good records to support effective management decisions. These will help producers manage their working capital, identify potential cost savings, and know whether they have the resources to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Also supporting effective decision making is an advisory team, on which producers should include key employees, vendors and financial advisors. This team should be tasked with helping to proactively develop not only a plan, but also a backup plan, for managing through this cyclical downturn. Such plans will need to be individualized for each operator, and may include steps like finding additional sources of income, implementing specific cost-savings solutions, or changing the overall scale or scope of the business. Lenders, like GreenStone Farm Credit Services, will strive to find methods, such as interest-only solutions or increased access to operating funds, to support customers who can demonstrate they have thought through their specific situations and have developed a plan for moving things in the right direction.

Looking forward, there are bright spots on the horizon. It is anticipated that milk prices will begin to rebound by the fourth quarter of 2017, though the increase is expected to be modest given the processing dilemma. Producers who manage to reduce their costs and streamline their operations during this period of belt-tightening will be optimally placed to benefit from any improvements in the market. And, there will continue to be a demand for milk; the Great Lakes region, with its abundant forage and water supply, will remain an ideal location to produce milk for the benefit of a growing world population.​

Benjamin Spitzley is vice president and commercial lending group manager with GreenStone Farm Credit Services

June 13
Sharing the Rewards of MAEAP Verification

Laura and Russell Braun, owners of Golden Maple Farms, recently hosted the MAEAP Advisory Board on their farm. As a GreenStone member and director on GreenStone's board, Laura shares in this blog her thoughts on the importance of the program and GreenStone's engagement with it!

By: Laura Braun, GreenStone Director and owner of Golden Maple Farms

In this day in age, it is becoming more and more common for farmers to come under fire by those who may be misinformed or misunderstand modern agricultural practices. Populations that are further removed from the agricultural landscape combined with the rapid spread of information in the digital age provide fertile ground for the growth of this challenge. Sharing our story, and showcasing the positive work of our farms, is ever important!

Here at Golden Maple Farms, we have, over time, adopted more and more sustainable best practices that not only protect the land and water for which we are stewards, but are also financially sustainable. The Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) verification was a logical next step in the management of our operation.

Practices that we were already implementing included regular soil testing, utilization of cover crops, and accurate record keeping. These steps make it easy to avoid purchasing and using too much fertilizer. Not only is this practice good for the environment, it is good for the check book. In today’s depressed farm economy – or any time – it is a good financial, as well as environmental, best practice. These steps, along with new ones identified in the verification process, are rewarded not only by recognition inside and out of our industry and community, but on our bottom line as well.

The process of becoming MAEAP verified was much simpler than we expected. Our MAEAP technician, Lindsey, met with us on several occasions to review the necessary steps toward verification and monitor progress. She was always available to answer any questions and was highly cognizant of any financial investment we might have to make in order to complete the process. In fact, other than one new fuel tank, our monetary investment was minimal. Lindsey kept the process on-task and made sure we made it through verification in a timely manner.

As a director at GreenStone, I am very supportive of the association’s role in supporting the MAEAP program and I would support continuing that involvement both by directly promoting it to our members and program sponsorship. GreenStone, as well as other agriculture support groups, plays an important role in the promotion and strength of the program. Personally, I am happy to know that anyone that drives past our farm will see and recognize the MAEAP sign and can be assured that our management practices are sustainable and environmentally sound.

We are happy to host the June meeting of the MAEAP Advisory Board and welcome them to Golden Maple Farms. It is our hope that our farm demonstrates to the Board and to other producers how the MAEAP program can be successfully implemented.


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