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April 28
MSU Student Wins USDA Diversity Program Essay Contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do-It-Yourself

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

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

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

Fully-Contracted

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

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

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

A Third Option

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

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

April 15
Log Home Living

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

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

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



April 15
RFD-TV Interviews Bob Dole for Farm Credit Centennial

​RFD-TV highlights Farm Credit's 100 year milestone and 50-year-old time capsule, and interviews former Kansas Senator Bob Dole.


​​​[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-T_D-4VjlQ[/youtube] ​​​
April 05
GreenStone Honored by National Agri-Marketing Assocation

​The GreenStone Farm Credit Services’ marketing and public relations department is thrilled to annouce a recent award from the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA)

GreenStone received the first-place award in the “Direct Mail-directed to farmers, growers and ranchers – three dimensional” category for their “GreenStone Distinction” campaign.

The campaign featured a series of four packages highlighting what makes GreenStone unique, including the Patronage program, staff expertise, trusted, local teams, and financial services tailored to our customers’ specific needs. 

The campaign will advance to the National Best of NAMA competition later this month!

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March 16
From FFA to Financial Services Officer

​Tony Barcroft is a senior financial services officer at GreenStone’s Hastings branch, but he was first introduced to Farm Credit back in 1974 as a Lakewood High School student and FFA member. It was that year he entered an essay contest sponsored by Farm Credit, then known as the Production Credit Association, or PCA. At the time, PCA’s tagline was, “Farming is everybody’s bread and butter. Spread the word.” Tony’s essay, which addressed the importance of agriculture in our community, took first place. He was awarded $100 and a plaque for his essay. Little did he know, the essay contest would put him on the path to a career with GreenStone.

“The essay contest definitely got me interested in working for Farm Credit,” Tony says. After graduating with a degree in food system economies and management from Michigan State University, Tony accepted a job with Farm Credit.

Fast forward to 2016, GreenStone is commemorating 20 years of support to FFA and 100 years of service to rural communities and agriculture. At last week’s FFA State Convention in Michigan, Randy Stec, GreenStone chief sales and marketing officer, shared that GreenStone has contributed $500,000 to the Michigan FFA over the last 20 years and shared the photo of Tony accepting the essay contest award in 1974. He encouraged the students to pursue their passion – just like Tony – and know that GreenStone is there to help, today and tomorrow.

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Farming is Everybody’s Bread and Butter” essay contest. Pictured, left to right: Ron Stevens, Ag teacher at Lakewood High School; Tony Barcroft, currently a senior financial services office with GreenStone; Steve May, then branch manager for Ionia and Barry counties.


March 15
Veterans Continuing National Service

This is the first post in a new quarterly blog series by guest writer, Adam Ingrao. Adam is the executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan. Adam will share personal stories, news and events related to farmer veterans in Michigan.


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​By Adam Ingrao

The statistics are worrisome. The average age of the American farmer is 58 years old and from 2007 to 2012 we saw a 20 percent drop in the number of new farmers in the U.S. (USDA Census of Agriculture, 2012). In an age of global turmoil, we in the U.S. are buffered from the stresses related to food supply shortages that many others in the world feel daily. However, as our farmers age and fewer individuals move into farming careers, we are faced with a growing prospect of a population that lacks the skills necessary to feed the nation. 

Hope is out there. Despite the figures, there is a group of individuals rising to the challenge. Veterans are beginning to identify farming as a viable career path after the military. Military service instills qualities like dedication to duty, integrity and selfless service, while fostering an environment that promotes a tremendous work ethic paired with world class leadership and management training. This makes U.S. veterans some of the most highly-trained individuals in the world, and the skillsets learned in the military transfer well to the dedicated work ethic and self-motived life of farmers and other ag professionals. Therefore, farming careers are an natural transition for veterans, and gives them the ability to utilize their military skills to continue their national service by ensuring our nation’s food security. 

We can help. Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan (FVC-MI) is a state chapter of the national non-profit Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). We help veterans working in, and transitioning to, careers in agriculture through education, funding, and programming. Our education programs include business and financial literacy programming to ensure veterans have the business background necessary to be successful. Our FVC Fellowship Fund offers veterans the chance to apply yearly for $1,000 – 5,000 grants to fund on farm projects and education opportunities (This year we will have given over $1,000,000 directly to farmer veterans since the program began in 2011). 

We also work with our members to help them market their products through our Homegrown By Heroes certification which allows our members to use the HBH label to help consumers determine veteran produced products in the marketplace. 

Additionally, we are building a resilient farmer veteran community through peer-to-peer (vet-to-vet) support, which continues to build a strong farmer veteran community throughout the country. Membership to FVC is free to all veterans (join at www.farmvetco.org) and you can contact FVC-MI at beewisefarms@gmail.com, 951-237-5311, or like us on Facebook.

Tune in next quarter to here personal stories of our Michigan members and how they are changing the face of American agriculture.

Adam Ingrao is a U.S. Army Veteran and the Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan.



February 25
Farm Women’s Symposium Celebrates 25 Years

​By Emelee Rajzer and Wanda Skinner

This year the Farm Women’s Symposium will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in Traverse City, Michigan March 9-11.

The purpose of the Farm Women’s Symposium is to strengthen agriculture by addressing the ever changing needs of farm families. It provides opportunities for leadership and professional development, enhances communication and management skills, builds effective family teams and develops a network of supportive friendships. The Farm Women’s Symposium encourages participation from everyone involved with agriculture.

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As GreenStone Farm Credit Services commemorates 100 years of support for rural communities and agriculture, we will again offer $150 scholarships to our members attending the symposium. Scholarships will be awarded to members who register before March 1, 2016. Simply mail your registration in with your $30 co-pay and indicate your local office. Eligibility questions should be directed to Wanda Skinner at (800) 255-6458.

Jolene Brown, a nationally known speaker, will present “Who’s hiding the Humor” and “Stop the Fighting on the Way to the Funeral Home” on Wednesday. There will be several Michigan speakers, including a presentation on hops production, and a blogger who documents women in agriculture and life principals learned from farming.

Thursday there will be a bus trip to wineries, farms and other local highlights.

Friday will feature Kim Bremmer who is a vocal champion of agriculture and will present “Sharing your Front Row Seat to Farming.”  Elizabeth Lautner, DVM and director of a USDA laboratory in Iowa, will present “Animal Health in the Country.”  Bevererly Berens from MI AgrAbility will discuss “Farming with a Disability.” 

Over 150 women are expected to attend this great event. Quite a few of the attendees have developed life-long friendships as a result of the symposium.

To register, visit http://farmwomenssymposium.com/.

Emelee Rajzer is an agriconsumer financial services officer in Schoolcraft and Wanda Skinner is an agriconsumer financial services officer in Caro.

February 17
We Know Country Living

When you think about GreenStone Farm Credit Services, you probably think about agriculture. The word “farm” is in our name, after all. For a century, we have been known throughout the state of Michigan and northeast Wisconsin as the agriculture lending experts and agriculture supporter, participating at county fairs, farm breakfasts, young farmer events, and much more. When you think GreenStone, you should think “agriculture;” but you should also think about rural communities, country living, and even outdoor recreation. 

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For the last 40+ years, we have been financing recreational land, home sites, construction mortgages and country homes. The Farm Credit Act of 1971 updated the Farm Credit charter, broadening the System’s lending authority to include the purchase of non-farm rural homes. Since then, our expertise has come to include financing country living and outdoor lifestyles. We know agricultural markets fluctuate from time to time, and by supporting a wide spectrum of borrowers, we diversify our portfolio and help insulate our association from the impact of local weather events and market collapse. 

By doing so, we also help ensure rural communities are economically successful by providing stable and diverse lending options to rural homeowners, farm-related businesses and infrastructure providers, among others. This portfolio diversity is essential to ensure we will remain a steady source of funding for all of our borrowers, day in and day out, regardless of market or industry fluctuations, for years to come. 

We understand your dream of a quiet, country lifestyle. We understand because we also love hunting and fishing, hiking and biking. GreenStone has helped thousands of families find the perfect place to play, fish, hunt, retire or simply escape to the country. And when you are looking for land, think big! Our financing specialists have the tools and experience to tailor a loan package specific to your needs. We offer low down payments on acreage of any size. Our 30-year amortization terms also offer affordable payments.

So the next time you are dreaming of your own little slice of heaven, remember GreenStone can help make that dream come true. We support rural communities and agriculture, and we have helped folks finance their dreams of recreational land and country homes for decades, just like we do for farmers and producers. When you find the perfect spot to settle in the country, we will make your financing easy.

Enjoy Your Land with No Rules but Your Own

We are experts at providing recreational land loan solutions to help make the process of financing your land for recreation simple and easy. You can benefit from:

  • Competitive interest rates to save you money
  • Small to unlimited acreage financing
  • 30-year amortization terms for affordable payments
  • Low down payment requirements
  • Experienced staff to make your financing simple and quick
  • Cabins, pole barns, outbuildings and other site improvements can be included in your financing
Ready for the country life? Contact the experts at GreenStone today! 

February 17
​How Meetings Can Make You Money

By Barb Dartt, DVM, MS

Last summer I wrote about how an investment in “overhead” – in the form of an executive assistant – could give your business more efficiency and you some peace of mind. Keeping with the theme of basic (but not very sexy) investments that enhance business productivity and performance, today’s topic is around holding great meetings.

Much of the popular press about meetings lament the time wasted in unproductive team gatherings. This may be true for the corporate world, but for my clients, effective meetings are an underutilized tool. Effective meetings give team members more clarity around expectations and appreciation for each other’s roles. They help employees get more work done in a shorter time – and enjoy it.

There are a few keys to ensuring a meeting is effective.

1. Cover the right content with the right people in the right amount of time.

Effective meetings are not “one-size-fits-all.” Rather, a meeting’s length, frequency and attendees are matched to its purpose. One meeting many of my clients hold regularly are stand-up or dispatch meetings. They are at the beginning of the day, in the shop or break room where folks clock in or begin their day. The purpose is usually to assign resources for the day – who is working on what project, who needs extra help, what parts or equipment are required, etc. The time frame discussed is short – a day or two. The meeting is short – usually 15 minutes. And the meeting happens frequently – every day.

The challenge begins when in a short, focused meeting, someone asks a longer-term question. “Should we replace the 7230 or do an overhaul this winter?” OR… “The way our coop is doing the soil sampling maps isn’t very helpful to getting our fertilizer bids in. What can we do differently?” As the meeting leader, if you engage in this question, you have just sunk your meeting effectiveness.

In the first example, the decision can’t really be made in this meeting. In the second example, the topic is very specialized and only affects one or two folks. These discussions more appropriately belong at a monthly or quarterly planning meeting where attendees are prepared to make a capital replacement decision. Or, a topic that only affects one or two people should be tabled and discussed later with only those affected. However, if your daily meeting is the ONLY meeting you have, it’s hard to move the discussion to an appropriate setting

The mix of meetings you need for your business depends on its size and complexity. Here are a few kinds of meetings.

  • Daily stand-up or dispatch meetings as described above.
  • Monthly or quarterly financial and planning meetings cover financial performance, anticipated capital purchases, talent discussions, or even marketing plans. These meetings generally last 1-3 hours.
  • Annual long-term planning meetings develop strategic priorities. Topics could include landlord relationships, succession planning, expansion planning, or a review of key opportunities and challenges faced by the business. These meetings should be ½ - 1 day long.

2. Prepare for the meeting – have a facilitator, assign a purpose and develop an agenda.

A facilitator owns the meeting process – of starting and ending on time, of knowing and achieving the purpose, of ensuring everyone has an opportunity to contribute and of following the agenda. Obviously, for a facilitator to be effective, someone (or the group) has to set up these expectations ahead of time!

Many producers are challenged by the need for a meeting agenda. It’s hard to get into the habit of bringing up topics ahead of the meeting. Note that the daily meetings can be effective without a new agenda each time – the topics covered are routine and you can stick to a standing agenda that is consistent. An agenda for the monthly or quarterly planning meetings can be developed by attendees at the beginning of each meeting.  Two standing topics at monthly/quarterly meetings ought to be confirming the purpose of the meeting and reviewing the action items from the previous meeting. For long-term planning meetings, an agenda should be developed in advance.

3. Record decisions and action items.

While tough to get done, this practice has a big impact on efficiency. Recording decisions allows attendees to avoid re-plowing ground covered in prior meetings. The ability to refer back to previous action items can speed discussion and helps avoid conflict over differing recollections. Rather than attempting to record all the discussion, I suggest simply recording decisions and action items (who agreed to do what by when).

It takes time, commitment and persistence to build the habit of effective meetings. Be ready to adjust the agenda, frequency and timing of your meetings. Your first try will not be a perfect fit…but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! Be persistent and adjust to meet you and your team’s needs.

They may not be a very glamourous new practice, but I have seen meetings energize employees, create momentum and increase team productivity. Over time, folks enjoy the opportunity to come together, plan their work, share accomplishments (and challenges) and feel like an interconnected and focused team. And a productive team that enjoys their work can certainly make you (and save you) money.


Barb is a consultant with the Family Business Consulting Group, working with families and management teams to help them keep their business healthy and the people happy. Barb can be reached at 269-382-0539 or dartt@thefbcg.com


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