From the Fields: Recap of ABA Agricultural Bankers Conference – Cincinnati, Ohio

By Lisa Higgins, State Bank of Cross Plains

Volatility, supply chain issues, China, and grit were common topics this year at the American Bankers Association’s Agricultural Bankers Conference.

Dr. Kohl’s advice on how to deal with volatility? Manage the controllables and manage around the un-controllables. Unless you have a crystal ball, risk management is the best thing we can do to combat volatility in the markets. As bankers, the most important thing we can do is structure our deals and accounts correctly to avoid more risk.

Supply chain issues were also top of mind, with the holidays right around the corner and the bullish commodity markets. The resounding response? Not surprising. . . manage risk and mitigate it by adapting. Our producers need to utilize as many marketing opportunities as possible. Senior Director – Procurement of Tyson Foods, Inc. Tom Schaeffer shared a little about Tyson’s “new normal” after the pandemic shut down their plants. He says that companies need to be on the offense now, and shift from efficiency-centric teams to deliver more resiliency and effectiveness. He also noted that most issues are labor related and the will to work, versus an actual shortage of workers. He says to embrace the reactive, embed the proactive and never let crises go to waste.

We heard from a couple of speakers that addressed grit and resiliency. Bonnie Ayars, teacher, and program specialist for Ohio State University gave an empowering talk about leadership and true grit. She said to view grit as not a talent, but who we are internally. She challenged us to find our passion and persevere, and that those two things equal achievement, which is grit.

The theme for this year’s Ag Bankers Conference was “Moving Forward,” but we did a lot of looking back. From revisiting the 1980s farm crisis and volatility, to reviewing the lessons learned from the pandemic, we had a chance to think about where we were and what we have to look forward to. Will history repeat itself or did we learn from our past? One thing is for certain: our industry and our country are full of resilient, gritty individuals, including our closing speaker Travis Mills, retired US Army Staff Sergeant. He is a quadruple amputee, New York Times Best-Selling Author, and founder of Travis Mills Foundation. He shared a few things that he has learned on his journey: 1. Don’t dwell but reminisce on the past. 2. Control your attitude. 3. Never give up, never quit. In my opinion, those three things are a direct reflection of who our farmers are and a parallel to our industry. Good reminders and great advice.

We had some familiar faces who presented, and some new ones who will more than likely become regulars on our Ag Speaker Circuit. One thing is for sure, in-person breakouts and general sessions were a relief to attend, vs Zoom calls or recorded videos.

It was a great to see the speakers and peers in person to ask questions, network and glean a bit of wisdom from.

Higgins is Vice President, Ag/Commercial Banker at State Bank of Cross Plains and serves on the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section Board.