It seems like a lifetime ago that I finished up my remarks for the spring edition of Partners. Our country and the entire world continue to fight the insidious novel coronavirus including its serious impact on people's health and financial security.
While states around the country are gradually moving through the stages of their reopening plans, very few things are back to the normal we once knew. Even GreenStone, after three months of serving customers remotely, we have reopened our buildings, but the protective measures necessary to help keep both customers and staff safe means that “normal” is still a few steps away from what we used to expect, and no one can predict the long-term impact this will have on our lives in the months and years to come.
Some things we do know is that protein and dairy prices have recovered somewhat from their lows in March and April as the industry has slowly regained processing capacity and transitioned production for more consumption at home. Most of our territory in Michigan and Wisconsin is off to a good start on the 2020 crop. Overall, many crops were in early, only to languish due to unusually cold temperatures in May, with many specialty crops hit by a killing freeze in Michigan on May 9.
Despite this, and a once in 500-year flood in north central Michigan, corn and soybean stands have emerged ahead of the five-year average with the soybean crop in Michigan as of late June rated 57% good to excellent and corn at 58%. Also, let’s not forget that interest rates have dropped to levels not seen since the last “great recession” of 2009-2010.
The federal government has also now infused nearly $3 trillion in various forms of economic stimulus to help buoy the economy with nearly $19 billion targeted for agriculture through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) alone, plus making agriculture producers eligible for the SBA PPP and EIDL programs. In addition, the State of Michigan’s Agriculture Disaster Loan Origination Program was launched in March with applications ending May 31.
The State of Wisconsin also announced a new program on June 5. The Wisconsin Farm Support Program includes a total of $50 million for Wisconsin farmers who experienced Coronavirus-related financial losses. Payments are expected to range between $1,000 to $3,500. Plus, USDA Rural Development released a new CARES Act Business and Industry Loan program in early June for lenders to use in extending working capital to borrowers whose financial situation has deteriorated due to Coronavirus-related causes and now present more than a normal amount of risk to the financial institution.
Finally, crop insurance continues to be used more widely, with more robust levels of coverage to provide another vital layer of risk management across a broad sector of commodities.
Since March, GreenStone alone has extended more than $140 million to approximately 1,400 customers through the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), $6.5 million in Michigan Agriculture Disaster Loan Origination Program, provided payment deferrals to just over 300 country living customers, plus dozens of individual farm customer repayment plan modifications, while also distributing $100 million in patronage payments to customers.
We are now in the PPP Loan Forgiveness phase. Working through the various changes over the last few months from the Department of Treasury and the SBA, we have provided numerous updates to our customers seeking forgiveness. We have also implement an online, simple and convenient tool to assist those members in submitting their PPP Loan Forgiveness application. The process provides them a secure way to enter their information, upload documentation, and electronically sign and submit the application to the SBA. Like the initial PPP applications, GreenStone continues to work through the unknowns of this program to ensure we’re able to assist all 1,300+ members with their forgiveness applications.
Believe me, I understand the uncertainty and stress that times like these create and do not want to minimize the toll stress from this pandemic continues to cause. However, these and a number of other things are going right and could make 2020 better than any of us would have ever expected in those early dark days of spring. Yes, the virus could rebound in the fall or winter and create even more mischief, but right now – God willing – there are many reasons to be optimistic for a soft landing.
To date, GreenStone’s growth is well ahead of the 2020 business plan, with risk in the portfolio being managed at a relatively low level resulting in exceptionally strong earnings to date. Together, this puts us on track to possibly an even better performance than we achieved last year, which bodes well for strong patronage once again if the current trajectory is maintained.
As I mentioned in my spring Partners comments, our members and our staff transitioned amazingly well to a “virtual” service model while our branches remained closed as a result of the virus and State Executive orders. From the comments I have received, our service has remained relatively seamless to most with business being transacted digitally using a wide variety of tools, from the basic telephone to secure portals, electronic signatures, and online banking services.
As the impact of the pandemic in the states we serve receded and State Executive Orders changed, GreenStone also moved to the re-engagement stages of our pandemic plan. Starting with appointment-based customer meetings in early June, we followed the state guidelines and ultimately reopened our buildings on June 29. As I’ve said all along, we’ve been thoughtful and considerate throughout the pandemic to the needs – and the safety – of our staff and our customers. All of our staff have completed training on personal and office safety and how to minimize the spread of the virus, including proper cleaning and disinfecting.
We have provided several safety precautions in our buildings and daily staff practices, which we ask our customers to adopt when coming to the branch, to help us provide a safe environment to serve our members. When you need to come to the office, face coverings will be available if you don’t have your own. Sanitization stations have been added for your safety, a protective barrier has been added to the lobby desk to safely serve you, and social distancing will be required. The health of our customers and employees continue to be GreenStone’s top priority.
We will be following CDC guidelines and OSHA requirements to ensure proper cleaning and disinfecting. And of course, to help keep everyone safe, we do ask that you remain home if you have recently experienced any symptoms of sickness. Be sure to ask our team about the all the ways we can serve your needs! I would ask for your cooperation, understanding, and patience in following these procedures we have put in place. While we all have our individual beliefs and preferences, our ONLY motive at GreenStone is to keep YOU and our STAFF healthy; thank you in advance in helping us achieve this goal!
Feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any concerns regarding the level of service you have received or anything else that I can be of assistance with.
Thank you to our farmers for all you have done for the rest of us during these difficult times through your unwavering commitment to provide the most nutritious, affordable, AND dependable source of food the world has ever known. All of us at GreenStone are blessed to do what we do to help you be your BEST!
Best wishes for a successful, healthy, and safe summer,
To view the article in the online 2020 Summer Partners Magazine, click here.