Giving [Farm] Credit Where It’s Due

Cartoon shows man holding up exclamation point ink blot, asking how things stand
Open to interpretation
Jan 25, 2019
ARLINGTON, VA – Last week, CEOs of three major farm credit unions gathered to address the media and ag community on credit conditions and the general agriculture economy.  Topics ranged from trade to weather as well as current financial issues facing the farming community and ways that credit union members can mitigate the ups and downs of the business.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories of stress from my customers,” said Kathy Heustess, CEO of ArborOne Farm Credit.  Among the many challenges facing her clients are weather, depressed commodity prices, and global trade disputes.  “There are a lot of uncontrollables for farmers,” she said.

Heustess added that many clients’ ability to pay down short-term debt has become more difficult in recent years, and stressed the importance of credit unions and FSA programs during such times.  “Our customers need immediate disaster relief.  We need certainty in ag policy.  We need a stable trade market and a stable workforce.”

President & CEO of Farm Credit Services of America Mark Jensen agreed, stating that the increased volatility of weather events and trade disputes have put additional pressure on commodity prices and overall profit margins.  “We don’t really see anything in the short term to change the price environment,” he said.

Jensen encouraged farmers to explore the many options and programs offered by farm credit unions.  “Our view is to work with customers to put their operation in a position of sustainability through cycles.  Frankly, you shouldn’t be in the ag lending industry if you don’t have the stomach for cycles and volatility in the industry.  That’s just inherent in financing agriculture.”

“Don’t wait for things to change,” Jensen advised.  “What are the things you can do today and what are the options we can think through together?”

Mark Knisely, CEO of Ag Country Farm Credit Services, agreed that the nature of agricultural work is cyclical, but also pointed out that the current climate in the industry is unique.  “We have to realize that this is probably an unusual time in agriculture.  Being proactive and intentional is important.”

Knisely also shed light on the issue of mental health during such times.  “When you have these kinds of stresses in rural America, mental health is something that we need to address.  We’ve been very intentional about sponsoring programs that are available.”

Through the many storms the ag industry must weather, all three farm credit leaders expressed a similar motto that they want their clients to take to heart:  “We’re in it for the good times and the bad.”

“We are all familiar with the inherent risks in farming,” said USA Rice Chairman Charley Mathews, Jr.  “It’s comforting to know there are people and organizations we can go to for help, support, and advice if we need it.”