The 2019 ABA National Agricultural Bankers Conference had great attendance with agricultural lending professionals from all over our country. It was great to meet with other banking professionals and rediscover that while we may work in different geographical areas, we have a lot in common. We heard several messages that you would expect, such as commodity cycles, trade talk updates, and advice on handling troubled credit relationships. We were also reminded that during these times, as our producers have “sharpened” their business IQ’s, we must do the same to remain leaders in our industry. I would like to share with you some of the key “take-aways” that I gathered at this year’s national conference. 

Good producers perform in the best and worst of times. Think about the clients that are in your top 5. Do they continue to show their ability to change to take advantage of the challenges in the industry? The answer is yes. Did their fundamental financial systems change? Probably not. They know both sides of their balance sheets. They know their cost of production. They know at what levels they are profitable. They have a strong business IQ. 

Farm balance sheets have been stressed through the most recent commodity down cycle. However, many of the speakers relayed that much of the upper Midwest retains strong land values that should help buoy balance sheets in the near term. 

There will be long-term repercussions to the prolonged trade talks. As the trade deals come together, our trading partners may not be as quick to reestablish the same levels of trade that we had with them before. We should expect that it may take some time. 

The successful relationships that agricultural bankers build with their clients are a combination of “high tech” and “high touch”. In the last 10 years of banking, we as an industry have introduced a large amount of technology to make our clients’ lives easier. No matter how convenient that makes their day-to-day work, it cannot replace the fact that producers want someone who understands their dreams and goals.  The “high touch” factor cannot be dismissed. It is in our human nature that we want to be understood. We were reminded several times, by different speakers, that technology has yet to replace someone who cares and has the skill set to help them achieve their dreams. 

The trip to Dallas was time well spent. I would encourage you to attend the ABA National Agricultural Bankers Conference in November 2020 that will be held in Cincinnati, OH. You won’t be disappointed. 

Tony Betley is VP, senior agricultural banking officer with Investors Community Bank in Eau and serves on the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section Board.