From the Fields: Where Do We Go from Here?

Greetings fellow Ag Bankers! I am certain this “From the Fields” newsletter finds you knee-deep (or perhaps neck-deep) in spring loan renewal season! The hope is, you found plenty of useful information you can share with your customers as a result of our recent WBA Agricultural Bankers Conference that took place April 7-8. 

The conference this year started with the always educational and exceedingly entertaining Dr. David Kohl. Among other things, Dr. Kohl reminded us that the number of zeros and commas in our loans these days makes it important to monitor ratios and all things financial with our customers on a regular (perhaps more than once a year) basis. Listening to Dr. Kohl reveals that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Key ratios that were the focus in ag lending years ago remain key ratios today. Equally as important are the credit issues that can surface “outside the numbers,” once again reminding us of the importance of being cognizant of all the many factors that impact our customers’ businesses and the potential effect on success or failure.

Dennis Frame, Co-Founder of Discovery Farms Wisconsin, shared ideas and examples of how we can empower our customers to lead in protecting and improving water quality in Wisconsin. With the high demands and expectations that the public puts on agriculture, this session offered ideas relating to new conservation practices with the end goal of protecting natural resources; a win for our customers, the consumer, and the environment. Dennis provided materials we can share with customers who may be interested in Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants. 

Hailing from the state of Minnesota, now living in Illinois, and speaking to Wisconsin ag bankers, the key question asked of Ed Elfmann was what he thought of Aaron Rodgers hosting Jeopardy! All kidding aside, Ed, Senior Vice President of Agricultural and Rural Banking Policy with the American Bankers Association, presented a wealth of information regarding politics and its potential effect on agriculture. Ed discussed everything from new committee appointees, USDA, PPP, CFAP, American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, farm debt, farm consolidation, bank consolidation, ECORA, rural development, and everything in-between. Ed also added that the National ABA Agricultural Bankers Conference is planned as an in-person event later this year in Cincinnati, Ohio.

After the enjoyable morning networking session, which was as close as we could get to the longed-for face-to-face conferences of bygone days, Thursday morning took off with Dr. Mark Stephenson both looking in the rearview mirror, and keeping an eye on the windshield. Through slides and commentary, Mark shared graphs and statistics that explained what occurred in the dairy industry during 2020, on the local, national, and worldwide level, as a result of Covid. From disruptions in supply chains, to unemployment, from cheese consumption, to Farm-to-Family Food Boxes, from the DMC to CFAP, to DRP, LGM, and PPD’s, Mark provided an abundance of knowledge and understanding as to how we got where we are and where we may be poised to go from here.

Live from his basement office in Champagne, Illinois, Eric Snodgrass, Principal Atmospheric Scientist for Nutrien Ag Solutions offered an extremely interesting presentation about the weather. This was another session wrought with excellent weather maps, videos, and pictures of what makes the weather happen and how that affects agriculture. Eric fine-tuned his talk to Wisconsin and gave us a better understanding of weather and weather systems, its impact on crops and ultimately, farm profitability. Incidentally, I must report that Eric’s meteorological prediction was 100% correct… in spite of the balmy temperatures at the time of the conference, here in northern Wisconsin, sure enough, we received the snow he forecasted for the Tuesday after the conference!

Our wrap-up session included over a “century worth of knowledge” as Dr. Kohl (Virginia Tech), Sam Miller (BMO Harris Bank), and Lynn Paulson (Bell Bank) fielded top-of-mind questions from conference attendees. Commonly referred to as the “ESPN hot seat,” this session allowed audience members to direct questions to our three seasoned ag banking professionals. Some great take-homes from this closing session were the advice to not over-complicate things, a reminder that life is too short to work with “TeflonTM” people, to be comfortable in our own skin, to control what can be controlled, and to manage through the rest.

Wow! What a conference! Hopefully you were able to join this event and found it as beneficial as I did! 

The WBA Ag Section Board sends a big shout-out to this year’s conference sponsors: Bankers’ Bank, Farmer Mac, Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, Michael Best & Friedrich, and von Briesen & Roper. Also, please know that we have every intent to offer the Ag Bankers Conference, complete with sponsors and exhibitors, live and in-person in April of 2022! Watch for final dates to be shared soon!

As hard as we strive to put together meaningful virtual events, we know nothing really takes the place of that in-person sharing and networking. Therefore, your Ag Section Board is discussing and planning for potential in-person get-togethers this summer. Details will be forthcoming, but the thinking right now is to possibly hold a handful of informal, networking events throughout the state with the invitation to all Ag Section members to attend whichever ones might work for you. Keep watching your “From the Fields” newsletters and other communication from WBA’s Lori Kalscheuer who will be keeping all of us informed as the plans fall into place!

Until then, I will close my “From the Fields” write-up the same way I closed the conference: It has been my pleasure to serve as your Chair this past year. I wish you all good health, much success, and more good days than bad – until we meet again! Take care; stay safe; and thank you for attending the 2021 WBA Agricultural Bankers Conference! 

Darla Sikora is senior vice president of agricultural banking with Citizens State Bank of Loyal. She also serves as the current Chair of the WBA Agricultural Bankers Section Board.

By, Lori Kalscheuer