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February 21
Michelle Backhaus: FFA teaches life-long skills

In recognition of National FFA Week, we asked some GreenStone team members how their FFA experience guided their career path. Watch for their stories here this week.​ 

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​Through my FFA experiences, I learned I really enjoy working with others helping them be successful and reach their dreams. My involvement in FFA included numerous speaking contests on many different levels.  

I also competed in the proficiency award competition at the local, state and national level. A highlight of my time in FFA was participating in a 10-day travel seminar to Costa Rica. Through all of these experiences, I learned how to communicate with a variety of people, work with different farm operations and capture an array of knowledge about agriculture.  

All the activities I participated in FFA have developed into numerous skills I continue to use today in my career and volunteering in agricultural organizations. I participate in many public speaking events on behalf of GreenStone. My experiences help me be able to communicate with our customers and work through a variety of different situations with them.  I also use my knowledge in parliamentary procedure when I work with local agricultural organizations. 

I am very grateful for the experiences I have had in FFA – they provided me a solid foundation for my career and other activities I participate in today.

Michelle Backhaus is a senior financial services officer in the Little Chute branch. 

February 20
Mike Fisher: Developing ideals and character through FFA

​In recognition of National FFA Week, we asked some GreenStone team members how their FFA experience guided their career path. Watch for their stories here this week.​ 

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I grew up on a 2,800 acre cash crop farm in central Michigan and the FFA was a huge part of my high school education. I knew how to plant and harvest crops from the education that I received first hand on the farm, but the knowledge and understanding of the meaning of agriculture and its impact  beyond the farm came from my involvement with FFA.

We had an outstanding teacher and advisor, Van Varner.  We gained knowledge through him  that led us to state winning teams in Agricultural Forum, Parliamentary Procedure, Crop Production Proficiency, Crop Judging, Soil judging and classification and more!  

I took the opportunities I had through FFA like serving as an officer, holding the American Farmer degree, the Washington Leadership Conference, and utilize them to this day by getting involved in not only the ag community with projects like Gratiot County Rural Urban Day, Breakfast on the Farm, and the local FFA Alumni chapter. I am also involved with volunteering as a certified Hunter Safety Instructor and coordinator of our local Whitetails Unlimited Chapter for the past 23 years.

Joining the local FFA Alumni has given me the opportunity to see firsthand the skills and knowledge of the youth in agriculture today and I am very pleased knowing that the future of the agriculture industry is in great hands because of the opportunities and knowledge this group of young people are gaining through the FFA organization today! 

Everything that I have done can be directly linked to the development of my ideals and character through experiences not only on the farm, but also through my involvement with the FFA.   

 

Mike Fisher is a Crop Insurance Specialist in the Alma branch.

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February 19
Dave Armstrong: FFA members offer optimism for the future

In recognition of National FFA Week, we asked some GreenStone team members how their FFA experience guided their career path. Watch for their stories here this week.​ Dave Armstrong kicks off the blogs today expressing the impact FFA has on GreenStone employees.

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Like all the generations that have gone before us, today’s young people are a mixture of persona’s, skills, aspirations, and more. Yet, my experience working with FFA members over the past 20 years tells me the future of our industry, government institutions, and society in general will be in great hands in large part because of these talented young people.

While many companies lament finding and retaining young high-quality talent, our experience here at GreenStone has been just the opposite in large part due to the number of FFA alumni we hire. These young people have skills that make them job ready day one by having critical interpersonal skills, a strong work ethic, team building skills, the ability to solve problems, public speaking and presentation skills, and the list could go on. 

That’s why GreenStone has been a strong supporter of the MI FFA Foundation for over 25 years providing not only financial support to help develop these skills and more in our future leaders but, many in-kind activities from judging various events to serving on the FFA Foundation board. We see these as sound investments in not only our future but, more importantly, the future of our country. 

Although I was not fortunate enough to have been an FFA member when I was growing up, I clearly see the value the organization brings to each and every student it touches. Yes, there are several worthy organizations that do similar things for young people but, none, in my opinion provides the breadth, depth, and practical life training like that of FFA.

Dave Armstrong is GreenStone's President and CEO and an honorary FFA American Degree recipient.

February 14
GreenStone in the Community: 4-H Super Saturday

​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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Preparing for success at the fair begins far before the summer months for 4-H youth. Community members from Shawano County, Wisconsin recently spent a Saturday morning helping young 4-H’ers begin preparing fair projects. On January 6, youth from all over the county gathered at Shawano High School for the 10th annual Shawano County 4-H Super Saturday event. The 280 participants spent the day engaging in a variety of workshops learning crafts like cake decorating, leather crafting and receiving training in leadership and officer duties. 

Heidi Pettis, a GreenStone appraiser of the Clintonville branch and a member of the Shawano County community, took her knowledge of canning foods to Shawano High, running a salsa-making workshop for the event. As a lifelong member of 4-H, and now a leader at the county level, Heidi warmly embraced the chance to invest in the youth.

“It is a beneficial opportunity for the kids. They are able to learn about various crafts they can practice before the fair that they may not otherwise have the chance to be exposed to either at home or in school. They especially liked when they could take their work home with them – the salsa,” Heidi says.

GreenStone is committed to advancing agriculture of today and tomorrow by giving back to rural communities helping them grow and thrive.

 

February 09
Farm Women’s Symposium March 7-9

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Grand Rapids, Michigan is the site for the Farm Women’s Symposium on March 7-9. The annual event, celebrating its 27th year, draws women from around the state to hear issues impacting their farms and families, and to network with others. This year’s event features speakers discussing: The four biggest trends driving ag forward; managing farm related stress; immigration compliance; legislative issues and misleading food marketing. Along with the informative sessions, attendees will have the option to explore Grand Rapids including local farms, markets and the Meijer Gardens.​

“I look forward to the Farm Women’s Symposium every year,” says Emelee Rajzer, a financial services officer with GreenStone. “It is always a great time to see friends and to discuss issues important to today’s farmers. I like to encourage my customers to take advantage of the GreenStone scholarship to attend the conference.”

GreenStone provides a $150 scholarship to its members to cover a portion of the registration costs for those that register before March 1, 2018. To receive the $150 scholarship, mail your registration in with your $30 copay and indicate your local GreenStone branch on the form. Eligibilty questions should be directed to Wanda Skinner at 800-255-6458.

More information about the conference and a registration form can be found on their webpage at: https://www.farmwomenssymposium.com/​​


 

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January 30
Economic Year in Review and Look Ahead

​This past year has continued to be a challenge for the agriculture economy, with low commodity prices continuing to exert pressure on farm income. Grain and dairy in particular experienced a difficult year with revenue down while input prices remained largely steady. An excess supply of most commodities has kept prices down, and only those farmers able to produce either high yields for grains or high quality, efficient production of milk are maintaining profitability.

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Fortunately, most producers built strong balance sheets over the past ten years when commodity prices, on average, were relatively high. While some farmers put the increased net income toward expansion or new business initiatives, many shored up their working capital and equity, placing them in a strong position to weather the current economic environment. For those GreenStone customers significantly impacted by the drop in commodity prices, we have been able to work with many of them to rebalance their loan packages to more closely match current cash flows. As a result, our credit quality remains solid, ensuring that we will continue to be able to provide for our customer-owners’ financial needs.​


Overall, the economic situation in the U.S. is improving, with very low inflation and a low unemployment rate at 4.1 percent. As a point of comparison, the unemployment rate in 2009 hit 10 percent. If the low unemployment level persists, with the associated competitive labor market, some producers may face the need to increase salaries to retain their experienced employees, which will, in turn, increase their operational costs at a time when revenue is declining. To stay profitable, producers will need to find further efficiencies or ways to increase revenues.

The Federal Reserve has been carefully managing short-term interest rates, striving to avoid a recession. At the same time, the Federal Reserve’s commentary indicates that it is working toward a slightly higher inflation level of 2 percent. To that end, throughout 2017 it continued to increase short-term interest rates, including a recent December increase in the federal funds rate from 1.25 percent to 1.50 percent, the third increase in 2017 and the fifth since it started raising rates in December 2015. Looking forward, the Federal Reserve has made clear that it intends to continue the course of slowly increasing this benchmark rate through 2018.

It seems likely that, while the overall economy will remain strong, the agriculture commodity market will remain stressed in 2018, with surplus supply leading to low prices on many of our commodities including corn, soybeans, wheat, and milk. At the same time, while input costs are expected to decrease, they do not often drop as quickly as commodity prices. To remain viable and survive these tight margins, producers will need to reduce operating and family living costs as much as possible.

We expect land prices to experience a modest decline in our territory due to commodity price levels and because there is not a significant demand for farm expansion given the expected low revenues. 

With an estimated 30 percent of net farm income tied to international trade, it is critical for agriculture that the U.S. keeps its trade lines open. Major trade alliances like the North American Free Trade Agreement are certainly cornerstones of the country’s trade policy. We do not want our trade partners to even consider looking elsewhere, like Russia or powerhouse producing countries in South America, for the products we currently provide. The value of the dollar is also very important to U.S. exports. With the value of the dollar declining approximately 8 percent in 2017, exports of U.S. products were supported as U.S. goods became more affordable for purchasing nations. 

Currently, there are certainly challenges to individual agriculture sectors, like cash grain and dairy. However, it is important to note that Michigan enjoys broad agricultural diversity, including timber producers, hog producers and fruit growers, so the overall state agriculture economy will continue to be stable. Similar diversity in GreenStone’s portfolio also translates to a strong financial cooperative well positioned to serve our customer-owners.



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January 28
It's National Blueberry Pancake Day!

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Celebrate blueberries and pancakes with this simple and delicious recipe.

Ingredients

1 egg

13/4 cups milk

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

2 tbsp butter, melted

11/2 cups flour

3 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tbsp milk

Directions (makes 1 dozen pancakes)

  1. Preheat your griddle or pan griddle or pan over medium heat. 
  2. Beat together the egg, milk, ricotta cheese, lemon zest, vanilla and melted butter in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
  4. Gradually combine the wet mixture into the dry mixture. The dough will be a little lumpy.
  5. Let it sit for about five minutes. The batter will puff up. If it is too thick, add a little more milk.
  6. Butter or oil the griddle and lower the heat to medium low.
  7. Spoon large circles of batter onto the griddle. Cook on the griddle for a few minutes until the pancake begins to set, and then add blueberries to each pancake. Once the bubbles stop popping, flip the pancake and cook for a few more minutes on the other side.
  8. Keep the pancakes warm in a 200 degree oven while cooking the remaining cakes.
  9. To make the lemon syrup, whisk together the lemon juice, powdered sugar, and milk in a small bowl. Add more powdered sugar or milk until you reach your desired consistency.
  10. Drizzle the syrup over the pancakes and serve warm!

 

Source: The Spruce  

January 17
Start your Home Construction off Right by Choosing the Right Builder

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Engaging in new home construction involves a series of decisions, starting with choosing the right builder to partner with you through the homebuilding process. Taking the time to find the right builder will be time well spent as the project unfolds. GreenStone financial services officer Karen Ansell offers these tips for selecting the right builder:

Referrals, Reviews and References

The best way to evaluate your builder is to see their work. Ask to visit with past customers, check with new homeowners in the neighborhood, or visit with local suppliers working with the builder. When checking references, ask questions that reflect their work quality, integrity, and competence. 

Shake Their Hand

Spend time with the builder getting to know their personality and work style. The construction process requires a great deal of clear and accurate communication. Be sure you can develop a sense of trust with your builder and mutual respect for one another.

Check Credentials

Does the builder hold the right insurance and credentials needed to obtain the necessary permits and financing? There are some insurances, such as “dwelling in progress,” that can be obtained by either the builder or homeowner; be clear on who will provide the insurance needed. 

Count The Houses

Is this the builder’s first home construction or are they a seasoned builder with years of experience? If they are fairly new to home construction, confirm they have the capabilities and resources to fully execute the job. 

Check Calendars

Can the builder meet your timeline for starting and completing the construction? Busy, more seasoned builders often schedule home builds months in advance. It is important to align start and anticipated finish dates, taking into consideration weather and other factors that can delay progress.

Contract Clarity

Contracts between a builder and a homeowner may include stipulations for financing or other areas. Keep in mind other entities may have different criteria or details. For instance, a builder may ask for 30 percent down, but your financing contract may only allow 10 percent down. To avoid contract confusion, it is best to review the contract with others that may be impacted by the details.

Meet The Team

Building a house takes teamwork between the builder, the bank, sub-contractors, and you.Before finalizing your builder selection, find time for the builder and your bank representative to meet and discuss how the draw process, lien waivers, and final payments are handled. 

Who’s On Deck?

Is the person you are negotiating with the same person who will be on-site managing the project? It is important to meet and know the person who will be responsible for building your home.

DIY Option

Thinking of skipping the contracted builder and doing it yourself? Do-it-yourself construction is a popular option for those with the skills and time to lead the project. Financing for DIY construction can sometimes be difficult to obtain; however, GreenStone Farm Credit Services offers loan packages for DIY construction as well as fully-contracted home building.

Karen Ansell is a financial services officer in GreenStone’s Mt Pleasant branch who works with customers to realize their country living dreams.

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January 08
Preparing Year-End Financials

By: Moriah Brey, Assistant Vice President of Credit, and Kimberly Clum, Assistant Vice President of Credit, GreenStone Farm Credit Services​

For many agricultural producers, this time of year brings a welcome transition from the long hours of harvest and winter preparation. However, the work is not done. Arguably, the most important part of a business is analyzing the past and planning for the future. 

After all, this time of the year has many of us updating our records for tax reporting requirements. Taking this financial gathering process a step further will result in information that can be useful in making credit and management decisions.

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By having a series of year-end financial reports, both lenders and producers can conduct an accurate year-over-year comparison. All operations can benefit from generating these three reports at year-end as this provides a consistent “snapshot in time” view of your financial position. In turn, this will help assess how the operation is progressing, and identify and plan for any necessary or advantageous changes. Moreover, compiling the reports at year-end will save time later in the coming year if new financing needs or other opportunities arise.

In this article we will focus on those three main reports that, when used together, will allow you and your lender to thoroughly analyze your business.

Balance Sheet | What do I own?

A balance sheet is a record of what you own (assets) and what you owe (liabilities). In production agriculture, common assets include land and buildings, equipment, crop inventory – in the form of feed, harvested crops or growing crops – pre-paid assets and accounts receivables. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list. Other less common assets include rental houses, retirement accounts and investment accounts. Make sure to consider everything you own. On the liability side, account for any money borrowed, which includes open accounts held with vendors, credit card debt, planned for deferred payments, and traditional financing. 

When compiling your lists, start with the basic information; do not worry about the values assigned to each asset. Creditors typically use market-based balance sheets; as with the agricultural economy as a whole, values of your assets may change with the market. Therefore, it is most important to provide an inclusive list of all you own – your financial team can help you assign those values.

Profit and Loss | How did I get here?

When comparing one year-end balance sheet to another, the question, “how did we get here?” arises. A tax return provides your lender with the most basic information needed to show profit and loss from the previous year. Many producers compile their earnings information at year-end and rely on their tax preparer to organize the information into a format useful for tax purposes. The final product (tax return) is typically not available until March or April. 

Therefore, keeping a detailed profit and loss statement allows you and your lender to gather a more complete picture of how the year turned out before tax returns are due. If you track your records in an accounting software – either with the help of an accountant or by someone in your business – year-end is the best time to clean up the details and make sure you allocate income and expenses to the correct accounts. If updated, a profit and loss statement serves as a component piece to the final tax return – it is available earlier and includes additional detail. As with the balance sheet, the most important consideration with your profit and loss statement is accuracy and completeness.

Projection | Where are we going?

Now we know where we are at and how we got here, the next question is “where are we going?” A projection should detail items like the specific crops you will grow, the number of acres planted, size of your milking herd, anticipated production rates, etc. Fluctuating markets affect the prices paid for inputs and the prices gathered for the sale of crop. While only those prices that have been “locked in” with vendors and markets are set in stone, using the market values at a point in time to create your projection will help establish a budget for the coming year. The act of putting those details down on paper is what can be challenging for many – it takes time and discipline. Additionally, today’s agricultural economy can make projections disheartening to complete. However, a projection can serve as a great management tool for you. When analyzing the details for the upcoming year, one may consider changes to suppliers, inputs, rental agreements or an overall shift in strategy. 

Tis the Season 

Just as we have a dedicated season for planting and harvest, there really is a season for financial gathering and bookwork. Agricultural producers and business owners manage a myriad of details each day. The business you are running is sophisticated and complex. There is no doubt that you are keenly aware of the market costs affecting your operation and the upcoming opportunities or roadblocks you may face. Efficiently communicating these details can be challenging. However, using these three year-end reports as a tool to communicate with your lender and other business partners will help ensure the entire team is on the same page. From a credit standpoint, the more your lender knows up-front, the more efficiently they are able make credit decisions – helping to keep your operation running smoothly!

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January 05
Don’t Forget Crop Insurance in Your 2018 Planning

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We may be a few months from breaking soil for 2018 crops, but it is not too early to begin reviewing and planning for your 2018 crop insurance policies. Ben Mahlich, vice president of crop insurance at GreenStone, offers the following tips for the most effective crop insurance policies. 

Report 2017 Production: Be sure to report your 2017 production yields to your crop insurance specialist so they can begin preparing your 2018 individual quote. Also let them know if you are planning any overall changes to your cropping plan for this year.

Report Management Changes as Needed: Any changes to your farming operation can impact your crop insurance policies, including but not limited to: adding or removing business partners, business structure, reduction or addition of land, land management such as irrigation, changes in other enterprises such as livestock, etc.

Review Existing Policies: It is important to critically evaluate existing policies to ensure they reflect your current management plans and meet your needs. We recommend scheduling a time to meet with your crop insurance specialist to review current policies and explore ways to meet your goals and objectives. These meetings will help you prepare to meet important dates.

Ask the Questions: Crop insurance is in the news a lot lately as rules from the 2014 Farm Bill are implemented and the overall program is being scrutinized by those unfamiliar with the program. Be sure to reach out to your GreenStone specialist to help clarify any questions or concerns you may have regarding crop insurance. ​

Know the Dates: Crop insurance policies have important dates that must be adhered to for policy implementation. The following are the most important; however your crop insurance specialist can advise you of others you should be meeting.

January 15  Fruit Acreage Reports / Yield Reports & Pre-Acceptance Worksheets Due

January 26        Deadline for January LGM Sign-up

February 1​   Sales Close Date for Onions

February 23  Deadline for February LGM Sign Up 

March 15         Final date to sign up or make changes for a Spring 2018 Crop Insurance policy. If you are interested in changing the coverage level, type, or need to add a crop, please call your crop insurance specialist to review your options. All changes need to be completed by the March 15 deadline! If a signed application is not returned, your policy will automatically renew at the same level you insured at during the previous year.   

March 30          Deadline for March LGM Sign Up 

April 27            Deadline for April LGM Sign Up

*Please note that some dates can vary by County, especially in Wisconsin. Please check with your Specialist for specific dates if you are unsure


 

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