2010– MARKING TEN YEARS AS
Another year has passed, and a new calendar is upon us…with much excitement and
anticipation for what the next 12 months will bring. We hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season and a joyous new year. As we manage through these cold winter months and prepare for a new growing season that will be here soon, we at GreenStone look forward to a truly successful year for agriculture, our rural communities, and you—our valued stockholders. In addition, we hope you will find a few moments to enjoy this latest issue of Partners, which includes information on this year’s patronage distribution and a look back to a decade ago when an idea to bring four Farm Credit associations together as one became a reality. Happy reading…and as always, your comments and ideas are welcomed. Published by
FEATURES 5| Annie’s Project Becoming an effective farm business partner is the focus of Annie’s Project. Annie’s Project will be offered in six locations throughout Michigan this winter.
7| Patronage Distribution GreenStone Farm Credit Services is once again preparing to distribute patronage checks to its loyal customers—for what now will be the fifth consecutive year.
12| Industry Support GreenStone remains committed to working with customers and assisting those who find themselves financially stressed.
13| A Look Back—Marking Ten Years as GreenStone Four past and present CEOs share their unique perspectives.
IN EVERY ISSUE 2| CEO Comments 3| Market Outlook 9| Director’s Corner 11| Candid Comments 21| News Update
COLUMNS 4| Profits Hide Many Mistakes by Dr. David Kohl
19| Year of the Tiger by Barbara Dartt, DVM, MS
CEO Comments by Dave Armstrong
hat a year it has been! From the worst financial crisis to hit our country since the Great Depression to a new President, H1N1, an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, a long drawn out 2009 harvest, and the list could go on. Despite all that has happened over the past year I hope that you have been able to spend some quality time with friends and family during the holiday season and reflect on how blessed you are in spite of the challenges you may face. Yes, financial stability, being self sufficient, “getting ahead,” and so on are all important, but when you have supportive friends and family along with relatively good health, you are already “successful.” The coming year will present no fewer challenges than the last. The key to overcoming them is our attitude and life’s priorities. January 1, 2010 marks a significant milestone in GreenStone’s history. GreenStone was officially created effective January 1, 2000 with the merger of Farm Credit Services of Michigan’s Heartland, Farm Credit Services of East Central Michigan, Farm Credit Services of Southeastern Michigan, and Farm Credit Services of West Michigan. Farm Credit Services of Northeast Wisconsin then joined GreenStone in January of 2003. Since 2000, GreenStone has grown from $1.6 billion in assets to over $5 billion in owned and managed assets today. Even with the past year’s financial crisis, GreenStone has continued to meet its mission by providing a dependable, competitive, and constructive source of credit and financial services to the marketplace it serves. Eligible farmers, agribusinesses, and rural homeowners have never had to worry about having a source of credit for their financing needs at competitive rates even during the past financial storm’s darkest days. While last year’s financial performance will be less than planned, GreenStone will enjoy solid earnings in spite of provisions for loan losses not seen since the mid-80s. In fact, GreenStone’s Board of Directors has approved a $12.0 million qualified patronage distribution from 2009’s business results. This is consistent with the level of patronage the association has paid as a percentage of net earnings since starting its patronage program in 2004. Cumulative patronage paid to eligible members
since that time now totals $67 million. I encourage you to read more about the early days of the merger on Page 13 of this issue of Partners. It was a great opportunity for the original predecessor organization’s CEOs (including yours truly) to reminisce about those early days and reflect on the relative success of today’s organization. Current economic sentiment indicates that the country is slowly digging itself out of the “Great Recession.” Even though unemployment is just over 10% nationally, economists are optimistic that it will start to recover later this year into 2011. Unfortunately, some predict that our country may have to get used to higher levels of unemployment for some time to come. Interest rates are expected to stay relatively flat for most of 2010, but will depend on the rate of recovery and pressure on capacity utilization. So what does all of this mean for agriculture? It appears that as the world economy recovers so will the demand for agricultural products both domestically and abroad (exports should increase particularly with the decline of the U.S. dollar). In fact, we have already started to see an increase in exports in the fourth quarter of 2009 for the protein sector. Dairy continues to creep closer to profitability and will hopefully reach price levels that will sustain most efficient units by the end of the first quarter. The swine industry should slowly make its way to black ink by the second quarter. Timber will continue to be challenged for some time to come. Housing starts are not projected to return to “normal” levels until 2011. The cash crop sector probably will not experience the levels of profitability it has enjoyed over the past couple of years as livestock numbers decline, production recovers in other parts of the world, and the outlook for ethanol remains fuzzy at best. While 2010 may be a recovery for some enterprises, the future will remain volatile. This means producers must do a better job mitigating the risks of input costs as well as commodity prices. The new “normal” will be full of high “highs” and low “lows”, making the future much less predictable. Liquidity, risk management, and equity will be even more important in the future. Those producers who use leverage in a responsible manner and do all they can to manage the inherent risk in their businesses have a much better chance of a bright future than those who don’t. Isn’t it interesting how some things never change? Economic times like these are extremely stressful and GreenStone does all it can to assist members who are struggling continued on page 6... Winter 2010 PARTNERS
WINTER 2010 MARKET
OUTLOOK By Ken Lake
verall selling pressure recently in the soybean market stemmed from a sharp short-covering rally in the U.S. dollar, which in turn was triggered by a better than expected U.S. employment report. That pressure has been partially offset by the USDA reporting a 232,000 MT sale of soybeans to China for the 2009/10 marketing year. The quick price ascent that began in the second week of November has worked to keep values substantially above major moving averages. The 50-day moving average for the January soybean contract forms at $9.8875 Bu and is nearest to the current price. Yield/acreage numbers will remain untouched until the annual summary report in January; however, the export pace will produce a reduction in end stocks. Support is $9-9.10, basis March futures. Advance sales are on a move to $10.60 Bu, in January. Corn values have been under pressure on liquidation spurred by a sharply higher U.S. dollar. Technically, a doubletop has developed on the chart for March corn at $4.25 Bu. Corn values have quietly benefitted from strength in soybeans and the gradually increasing presence of institutional capital. Yet, prices have appreciated to levels that have left U.S. corn in an uncompetitive pricing situation to foreign end-users. The market appears to have been insulated from the skewing that has developed in S&D balance sheets as a consequence. Macro-markets will be required to draw price direction from money flows. The decline in wheat futures is attributed to heavier fund liquidation amid a considerable rally in the U.S. dollar.
Funds through the week ending December 1 bought a net 4,748 contracts and were reported to hold a position worth -15,167, the closest to a flat position appearing in any CFTC report since late June. Recent estimates are that speculative funds have sold a net 9,000 contracts and hold a position worth roughly -24,000. A longer term top at $6.05, March Chicago is likely in place. Amid unchanged basis at the Gulf and recent declines, money flow â€“ which has been the marketâ€™s sole bullish feature in recent weeks â€“ is indicating the beginning of a bear trend. A close below $5.52, March Chicago, would trigger further losses to $5.10-5.20.
Corn values have quietly benefitted from strength in soybeans and the gradually increasing presence of institutional capital. Yet, prices have appreciated to levels that have left U.S. corn in an uncompetitive pricing situation to foreign end-users. Despite a generally weaker trend in commodities, the hog market has traded higher. December was the only contract to move to new monthly highs, and settled $1.90 higher at $61.15. Cash fundamentals at midday were bullish with both higher pork and hog prices, justifying the rally. The increase continued on page 6...
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Business & Profits
Profits Hide Many Mistakes By Dr. David Kohl
irst, if you are involved in the livestock or protein industries, you are probably rolling your eyes at this title because profits are currently few and far between. On the other side of the fence, the headline might gain some attention from those involved in the grain industry, where profits have been substantial in recent years. How often have you heard people say, “We are making lots of money; let’s not change a thing?” Analogous to sports teams that have just won the championship, it is easier to get to the top than to stay there or defend or repeat great performances. What are some of the mistakes profits hide? First, some people will indicate that they no longer need to do a business plan, or develop, plan and execute a marketing plan because they are already profitable. On the contrary, when you are profitable, this is the time to plan and refine your business and marketing models. What aspects of the business will you continue? What will you elect to drop? This is the hard part because some aspects are often linked to the legacy or the heritage of the business’ evolution. The more you make, the more you spend. Farm record systems analysis finds that living withdrawals and spending have far exceeded the rate of inflation in recent years. Many producers make the mistake of not getting back to basics and doing a personal budget during the profitable years.
When a business is profitable and becomes more mature, there is a tendency to become more conservative, i.e. playing not to lose. Sometimes you must take risks and endure the possible consequence of failure to grow as a business. What are the mistakes that prevent you from doubling profits? Do not get into the trap of using past benchmarks—such as profit numbers—to represent your future goal. Finally, the best decisions are often made during the tough times. Sometimes regaining focus, getting back to the basics and plain vanilla business principles can be the recipe for success. Comments? Please send your remarks to AgGlobeTrotter@accountlist.com. I would like to know what you are thinking. –David Kohl
Dr. David M. Kohl is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Finance and Small Business Management and Entrepreneurship in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, Virginia. He has conducted more than 3,000 workshops and seminars for agricultural groups such as bankers, Farm Credit, FmHA, and regulators, as well as producer and agribusiness groups. He has published four books and over 400 articles on financial and business-related topics in journals, extension, and other popular publications. The opinions stated herein are not necessarily those of GreenStone FCS.
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Annie’s Project Geared to Farm Women’s Needs MSU Extension Hosts Annie’s Project in Six Locations Imlay City Mondays January 18 – February 22 Tietz’s Restaurant Contact: Huron County MSU Extension email@example.com or 989-269-9949
ecoming an effective farm business partner is the focus of Annie’s Project. The course, offered by Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), takes the real life experiences of an Illinois farm wife and shares them with other farm women who want to learn more about a crucial and complex business environment—their own farm. Annie’s Project will be offered in six locations throughout Michigan this winter. All programs include six weekly sessions that begin with dinner at 5:30 p.m., followed by a three-hour program. Topics include Human Resources and Time Management, Business and Marketing Plans, Risk Management, Financial Records, Legal Issues, and Current Resources. Learning sessions will have short presentations, extended discussions, and hands-on activities. According to Stephanie Schafer, a Clinton County Dairy Farmer, “I was just waiting for Annie’s Project to be offered in Michigan and drove to Eaton County in 2008 to attend the first one offered in Mid-Michigan. This was a great way to learn more about business management and to network with other farm women.” In conjunction with MSU Extension, Annie’s Project is being sponsored by GreenStone Farm Credit Services, the North Central Risk Management Education Center, Michigan Farm Service Agency, and many local sponsors of individual programs. Annie’s Project costs $50 per person, and class size is limited. Scholarships are available at many locations. For more information, call Marilyn Thelen, MSU Extension, at 989-227-6454 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Annie’s Project website for additional information at www.extension.iastate.edu/annie.
PARTNERS Winter 2010
Tuesdays January 19 – February 23 Huron Technical Center Contact: Huron County MSU Extension email@example.com or 989-269-9949
Upper Peninsula Tuesdays January 19 – February 23 Menominee County MSU Extension Office Contact: Delta Co. MSU Extension firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-786-3032
Central Michigan Wednesdays January 20 – February 24 Victor Twp Hall, Laingsburg Contact: Clinton Co. MSU Extension email@example.com or 989-224-5240
Alpena Thursdays February 4 – March 11 Alpena Community College Contact: Alpena County MSU Extension firstname.lastname@example.org or 989-354-9870
Benton Harbor Thursdays February 25 – April 1 Berrien Co. MSU Extension Office Contact: Berrien County MSU Extension email@example.com or 269-944-4126
...CEO Comments continued from page 2 financially. Tools include a broad array of assistance including elements of the Farm Credit System Borrower Rights and the new State of Michigan Foreclosure law. Financial stress often produces very strong emotions in people. They are deeply concerned about their financial plight and often times the only livelihood they have ever known. GreenStone has and will continue to insure that its staff members are adequately trained to be sensitive to peoplesâ€™ feelings and emotions under these difficult situations. Members can expect to receive the utmost in respect and understanding
course, slow dial-up connections that are still the only viable way to connect to the Internet in some areas. Yet, other problems were the result of the new system containing the very latest in security features which required customers to go through a more difficult process of transitioning from the old online product. We continue to work with our vendors to resolve these issues and thank you for your patience and understanding. Our goal is to get all of our current users converted by the end of the first quarter. The new system is state of the art and will provide our members with
from GreenStone personnel when they are experiencing any type of financial difficulty. Unfortunately, GreenStone must also balance individual customer situations with those of the association and stockholder group at large. GreenStone cannot simply forgive debt or make other arbitrary concessions or it will quickly lose its own risk bearing ability and cease to exist for future generations. This is something we take very seriously and will do our best to maintain the right balance.
reliable, secure, and convenient services for the next several years. If you are still experiencing difficulties, please contact your local branch for assistance.
Finally, many of you have now had a chance to sign on to our new Online Banking system. For some this has been an easy transition and for others a headache. I want to apologize to those of you who have experienced any inconvenience with the new system. Many of the problems arose because of the older computer technology still employed by our membership and, of
In closing, I want to thank all of you for your business and support of your association throughout the past year. As I mentioned earlier, 2009 will be one for the record books and one that none of us will ever forget! I want to wish you and your family a happy new year and the very best for a healthy and happy 2010.
...Market Outlook continued from page 3 in pork demand continues to push cash hog prices higher. Your price bias should remain neutral. Packer margins remain positive, which will continue to support cash prices. The difficulty in the pork market is gauging when export demand will slow. Spot cattle futures prices moved lower amid liquidation and weaker cash markets in the Western Plains. December cattle fell $2.20 to its lowest level since last June, and ended at $81.00. Cash cattle have been under pressure with live sales in Texas down $1-2 at $83, sales in Kansas have been $81, and prices in the Northern Plains were anywhere from $.50 to $3.00 lower, in a range of $79-81.50. United States
beef prices reversed and have fallen sharply. Choice boxes lost $4.26 and finished at $137.17 recently, led by a $7.79 decline in rib prices. The recent decline in the beef market is confirmation that seasonal highs are in place. You should hold an outlook for both beef and cattle prices to trade in a wide range of $79-84, at least thru the middle of January.
Ken Lake is the Originations Services Coordinator for Michigan Agricultural Commodities, Inc., working out of its Global Ethanol office in Riga, Michigan. He can be reached at 517-486-6190 ext. 107, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions stated herein are not necessarily those of GreenStone FCS.
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Patronage Checks Available at Branches on March 12 I
n a show of strength and stability during these uncertain times in the financial industry, GreenStone Farm Credit Services is once again preparing to distribute patronage checks to its loyal customers—for what now will be the fifth consecutive year. The GreenStone FCS Board of Directors recently approved a payout in cash patronage for 2009 that will be approximately $12 million. Each eligible customer’s patronage check will be available at his or her local GreenStone FCS branch on Friday, March 12. Those checks not picked up by the end of business on March 12 will be mailed to the respective customers the next business day. The cash patronage paid to each customer will be based on the proportion of net-interest income earned during 2009 on his or her loan to the total patronage based net-interest income earned by the association.
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Once again, GreenStone’s plan is to not only distribute a qualified cash patronage payment to customers, but also to use non-qualified allocations as a permanent investment in the association to capitalize future growth. Customers eligible to receive the patronage payments include anyone holding stock or participation certificates with GreenStone FCS, which would include rural residential home loan customers. Loan participations either sold or purchased by GreenStone FCS, and any leasing transactions, will not be included in the patronage program. The returns to customers also will not be based on income derived from fees or any of the organization’s financial services. According to GreenStone FCS President/CEO Dave Armstrong, the association remains
“Despite the various challenges experienced by some of our agricultural sectors in 2009, GreenStone remains a strong and healthy financial cooperative.”
capital position benefits all customers because an association is then better able to offer competitive interest rates and ensure a constant supply of credit. The cash portion of the patronage refund is taxable income to patrons. Each January following a year that patronage payments are distributed, GreenStone will send IRS 1099 Forms to its customers. Non-Qualified Allocations
committed to returning annual patronage to stockholders, helping to bring additional added value to those participating in the financial cooperative. “Despite the various challenges experienced by some of our agricultural sectors in 2009, GreenStone remains a strong and healthy financial cooperative,” said Armstrong. “Because of that, our association’s management and Board of Directors felt strongly of the importance to once again show our appreciation to our loyal and committed customers by distributing cash patronage.” Qualified Patronage Distributions Because the cash patronage refunds reduce the association’s capital, the amount of the payout must be in balance with GreenStone’s current capital position. Maintaining a strong
GreenStone intends to allocate a portion of net earnings as non-qualified written notices of allocation. These allocations are recorded in each customer’s name in the records of the association; however, the Board of Directors of GreenStone will consider non-qualified retained allocations as earnings permanently invested in the cooperative with no intention of distributing these earnings to customers. If GreenStone Farm Credit Services were ever to liquidate or be purchased by another financial institution, outstanding non-qualified allocations may be subject to distribution in accordance with the association’s bylaws. This non-qualified allocation is not taxable to patrons, unless it is ultimately distributed. More information about this year’s patronage payment distribution will be shared soon with eligible customers.
Bring your group out and visit GreenStone at these 2010 events: Huntin’ Time Expo
Outdoorama Sport & Fishing Show
January 29-31, 2010 Delta Plex Arena, Grand Rapids, MI www.huntingshows.net
February 25-28, 2010 Rock Financial Showplace, Novi, MI www.showspan.com/OUT/Home.aspx
Michigan Deer & Turkey Spectacular
Ultimate Sport Show
February 12-14, 2010 Lansing Center, Lansing, MI www.deerinfo.com/michiganhome.asp
Wisconsin Deer Classic & Hunting Expo Feb. 26-28, 2010 ShopKo Hall Green Bay, WI www.greenbaysportshows.com
March 18-21, 2010 DeVos Place Grand Rapids, MI www.showspan.com/USG/Home.aspx
Michigan Horse Council International Stallion Exhibition & Trade Show
Wisconsin Public Service Farm Show March 30-April 1, 2010 EAA Grounds, Osh Kosh WI www.wisconsinpublicservice.com/farm/ farmshow.aspx
Ag Expo July 20-22, 2010 Michigan State University Expo Grounds East Lansing, MI http://www.agexpo.msu.edu
March 12-14, 2010 MSU Pavilion, Michigan State University East Lansing, MI www.michiganhorsecouncil.com/Expo.htm
Winter 2010 PARTNERS
Gene College Outside Director “I love the word “passion”. During the few months that I have been a board member, the passion within both the management team and the board members has been notably obvious. They are truly committed to assisting customers be as successful as they can be. It has been important to me, as a new board member, to see this because I have a lot of passion for the Farm Credit System; I was looking for that in this organization.”
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Gene brought his Farm Credit passion to the GreenStone board in June 2009, after spending 32 years serving the Farm Credit System in Omaha, Nebraska. He retired from Farm Credit Services of America in 2007 after spending 12 years as their Chief Financial Officer. The balance of his Farm Credit years was spent with Farm Credit Bank of Omaha, primarily serving as the Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining the Farm Credit System, he worked for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, in Minnesota. Though Gene’s recent history stems from Farm Credit Services of America, which covers a four-state territory and is almost triple the size of GreenStone, Gene finds the core of the two associations to have many similarities: the issues, the inner business workings, the decision-making, and the strong focus on customer relationships. But Farm Credit isn’t the only source of Gene’s passion, people and relationships are equally important to him. He and his wife of 42 years, June, have a son and daughter, and thoroughly enjoy their three grandchildren. Gene has a special enthusiasm for working with children, volunteering at the local children’s hospital where he spends time with kids fighting cancer, and mentoring inner-city students. And, as he believes any true Nebraska resident would say, he is a passionate spectator fan of University of Nebraska sports and events—holding season tickets for football, volleyball, baseball, and the list goes on.
How do you view your role on the board? Frankly, the 14 elected directors have far more knowledge of production agriculture than I could even claim to have. Therefore, as an outside appointed director, I can hopefully bring a strong business and financial perspective that I think is of particular value to the board. Because of my extensive career centered in the financial arena, I have been selected as chairman of the Audit/Review Committee. It is the committee’s responsibility to review and validate all published financial statements, and to help determine if the association has appropriate internal control systems and verify these systems have been properly tested. The committee also provides an independent means for monitoring the association’s standards of conduct and code of ethics.
GreenStone FCS customers encompass a uniquely diverse industry. What do you see as the key to their success in the future? The largest portion of GreenStone’s customer base is farmers and agribusinesses. The agricultural environment has changed
in a sense that each of these farms could be classified as businesses. As a result, I think the success of each business begins with planning—both short term (one year) and long term (three to five years, and beyond). Our customers must make it a priority to determine what they want to accomplish and what their operations should look like in the future.
“In today’s environment, managing cash flow and net worth are important, but making sound management decisions is equally crucial.” However, these plans must be flexible based upon changes to the environment, the economy, and the markets; customers need to understand their individual business risks and take action to mitigate substantial risk. In today’s environment, managing cash flow and net worth are important, but making sound management decisions is equally crucial.
What do you view as GreenStone’s strategy to stay true to its mission and vision? I personally love GreenStone’s vision: “To be rural America’s first choice for financial services.” I believe this can only happen if you start with high quality employees who are trustworthy and dependable. Trust and dependability are two key words for me—customers must be able to trust us completely, and we must continue to prove that we are a long term and dependable source of credit and financial services. It is also imperative that GreenStone is financially strong with adequate capital, good earnings and controlled credit risk. Since agriculture is obviously a highly volatile industry, it is important that the organization has the financial capacity to withstand those adverse business cycles. We want to be recognized as a leader both in the communities we serve and the organizations we are associated with. Therefore, it is important that we too continue to be in a continuous planning mode with an eye always open to needed changes.
From your vantage point, what has made the most significant impact on the agricultural industry during your professional career? Although it is tough to narrow it to one, I feel that the most significant impact has been the fact that as agriculture became a world industry, it has dramatically changed the requirements
Winter 2010 PARTNERS
for a farming business to be successful. The impact and challenges our industry face today aren’t so much from your community, region, or even the state, but more so from what is going on worldwide. This has dramatically changed the approach to being successful—although it is still very
“Trust and dependability are two key words for me—customers must be able to trust us completely, and we must continue to prove that we are a long term and dependable source of credit and financial services.” important to make good production decisions, it is now even more important to appropriately plan and to make sound decisions that impact all aspects of the business. In essence, the successful farmer has transitioned from a “production manager” to a “chief executive officer”.
CANDID COMMENTS: At GreenStone, we value our partnership with you and recognize the importance of your input. By providing feedback, you help us to better deliver the products and services you need in the manner you deserve. If you have comments you’d like to share, please email them to email@example.com or mail to 1760 Abbey Road, East Lansing, MI 48823, ATTN: Candid Comments. We look forward to hearing from you! A selection of recent comments received are included below.
I am a Greenstone Custome r and feel compelled to wr ite in praise of Peter Hirschman, a loan officer in St. Johns. Pete has worked with me over the past two years on several notes. I recently refinance d the last and now have a new loan officer and won't see so mu ch of him anymore, but his hard work deserves some recog nition at this point. Pete helped me finance pro perty which I actually boug ht from GreenStone, which could have been an awkward po siti on for Pete [and I] to be in, but Pete always conducted him sel f with impeccable character and integrity I cannot say enough good things about Pete. It is a ple asure to do business with him and his office. Sincerely, Will Raphael
Final thoughts: “I have only been on the GreenStone Board of Directors for just over six months, but I would use the word “ecstatic” to describe how I feel. I was certainly aware of GreenStone throughout my career, but now that I have become more involved in the inner workings of it, I have been very, very impressed. GreenStone is a fantastic organization and is one that I believe will continue to be a dominant provider of financial products and services. I am honored to be a part of it.”
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ices, f rm Credit Serv e donations o GreenStone Fa ank you for th lculators. th to e lik ld wou s, hats and ca MSU NAMA s, water bottle d annual NAMA n ai ch y ke , a fleece e our thir r helping mak Thank you fo a a success. Bowl-O-Ram , Thanks again Chapter MSU NAMA
GreenStone’s Pledge to its Members... A new year brings new opportunities…of course, 2010 may also bring with it certain financial challenges from the recent year. That’s why we want you to know that GreenStone is committed to working with our customers and assisting those who find themselves financially stressed during these difficult economic times. With this in mind, GreenStone reinforces its pledge to continue to be a dependable financial source ready to assist your decision making process as you develop a sound financial plan for 2010 and beyond. The customer’s role… • Call us! At a time when you believe you may require some type of temporary financial relief, communication with your lender must be a top priority. By starting the conversation, we’ll be able to help you determine your individual situation and help guide you through a preserve and recover process. • Records are essential! Without accurate and up-to-date financial information and a realistic assessment of cash flow, we can’t fully understand your unique situation. This includes analyzing your cost of production. • Planning never ends! A comprehensive business plan, including marketing, procurement and purchasing, operating expense adjustments, debt structure alternatives, and risk management plans should all be outlined in your business plan. This provides a strategic starting point to assess viable options on a short-term and long-term basis. • Stay in touch! The first call isn’t the only call you need to make. Once you’ve met with your financial services officer, don’t lose contact. Stay in touch and keep them up-to-date on the business standings – the more communication, the better the results can be! GreenStone’s role… • Our mission isn’t just words, it is our approach to each day! Our number one objective is to promote the success of our customers and the rural community by being the best at providing credit and financial services. By delivering high quality and competitive products while maintaining a financially strong core, we can extend
credit and support in a manner that meets your specialized needs. Furthermore, we strive to ensure you are treated with sensitivity and respect by all staff. • A proactive approach is our goal! Our customers, and the success of their operations, remain a main concern. Therefore, we make every effort to, like you, be handson and review records to help you determine if alternative plans could be necessary. • Individuality and customization are key! We know your situation will be vastly different from your neighbors’. That’s why we start from ground zero with each customer and utilize a variety of tools and strategies to create a customized service plan specific to your unique needs. The process of determining what combination is the best fit starts with the individual analysis of your operation. • It’s no surprise…agriculture is a cyclical industry! The reasons for the increase, and subsequent decrease, in commodity prices are varied and dependent on a variety of outlying circumstances. While one customer may see great opportunity, another may be met with equally great risk. We know this, we understand it, and we are here to help guide you through these extraordinary times. • Your rights are paramount! It goes without saying that our customers not only expect, but trust, that we act in accordance with federal regulations which prohibit us from speaking directly about any of our customer relationships. To this end, our customer “Bill of Rights” explicitly states that we maintain confidential treatment of all information and protect your privacy. Furthermore, our Borrower Rights outline your right to request restructuring for your loan if you cannot meet current payments. GreenStone pledges to work diligently to assist those in need, while balancing the delicacy of being a financially responsible organization. Customer success and our stability have never been more important.
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A Look Back
Four unique perspectives on GreenStoneâ€™s first 10 years.
t was 10 years ago this month that four Farm Credit Associations in Michigan officially merged into one and became GreenStone Farm Credit Services. Yet, there were plenty of discussions, hand wringing, ideas and uncertainty in the years leading up to making that merger a reality. Four of the key principals within the Farm Credit System in Michigan in those days were the four association CEOs: Jim Bremer of Farm Credit Services of Michiganâ€™s Heartland; Carl Jessen of Farm Credit Services of West Michigan; Jim Schiller of Farm Credit Services of Southeastern Michigan; and Dave Armstrong of Farm Credit Services of East Central Michigan. With the help of their boards and their leadership teams, these four created a plan for making GreenStone a single association and being a leader throughout the state in agricultural lending and financial services. That plan included Bremer agreeing to retire at the onset of the merger, and Jessen leading the organization for the first year and a half.
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Above from left: Jim Bremer, Carl Jessen, Dave Armstrong and Jim Schiller.
“What was also unique about this situation is that within our cooperative structure there is no system in place or incentives for management that encourage these types of mergers.” At that point in time, the board named Schiller the next CEO and Armstrong served in the role of Executive Vice President. Ultimately, the current Board of Directors named Armstrong the CEO in January 2009 upon Schiller’s retirement. A decade later, these four individuals sat down together to reminisce about the System back in those days, and to discuss the vision that has made GreenStone what it is today.
What are some of your first recollections of the four of you getting together to discuss the possibility of merging the associations? Carl Jessen: Well, I remember we had several discussions at Jim Bremer’s association…some rather important talks on what the potential was for a merger and how it might all happen. Things really grew from those discussions over a period of many years. Jim Schiller: I think as smaller organizations we could all see that there were going to be many challenges…with the ups and downs of the ag economy, the amount of capital that was necessary, and the fact that agriculture was getting bigger, it was going to present problems for a smaller association. I know that was our concern in Southeast, because the units were getting larger and we really couldn’t effectively handle those larger loans independently. Dave Armstrong: I remember coming into the discussion probably later than the other three simply because I had not been in the System as long, but I think it was in 1998 that the Farm Credit Administration said it was going to possibly open up charters with competition among the associations. At that point in time, FCA thought it would be a good way to bring efficiency to the system, basically through survival of the fittest. However, we thought this would create a very difficult environment to operate within, because we would be competing. As we started to contemplate that possibility, that too probably helped spur our boards that it was the right time to go forward with the merger.
How far back did the initial discussions begin? Jim Bremer: I think it was really about 10 years prior to the actual merger. You need to really understand that we all got along really well here in Michigan, which was unique for the System. Within Farm Credit in those days, there were a lot of border wars and real animosity. We really tried to stay away from that…we would meet quite often, share ideas and coordinate activities. So I think all of us felt that it made sense to put this thing together if we could do it politically. What was also unique about this situation is that within our cooperative structure there is no system in place or incentives for management that encourage these types of mergers. Boards don’t want to merge because typically there will be fewer board members, and I think most of the mergers within Farm Credit had been driven by a CEO that was about to retire with a neighboring association looking to gain territory. I don’t think bringing four associations together at one time voluntarily without someone wanting to retire had ever been done before in our System.
What were some of the thoughts you recall having as to the challenges that each of you would face in making this merger a reality? Carl Jessen: It comes down to a lot of people issues, and specifically how is staff going to be affected. Overall, we were fortunate to be able to combine the best talent in the state and to be able to create a team that was much more powerful and effective than if we were operating separately. But in the interim, there was a lot of emotion involved, because people were having to change jobs, and some were losing their status…so those issues clearly were a challenge. Dave Armstrong: I was a little concerned about bureaucracy. Coming from the smallest association, I was thinking that a larger association may make it more difficult to serve a rapidly changing marketplace. One association would certainly provide us with the capital and resources to do it, but
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would we be able to put a structure in place that would allow us to act sort of like a PT boat instead of a huge battleship? Cost was also something that crossed my mind…would we be able to realize the efficiencies from the merger that we thought were likely? And, finally, growth…could we actually meet the targets that we thought were possible? And, ultimately we did, and then some. We’ve had some of the best years agriculture has ever seen over the last decade, so things really turned out marvelously. Jim Schiller: And, we were positioned at just the right time to capitalize on those strong economic times. Otherwise, as four separate associations we would not have been able to take on the competition like we did. But, GreenStone had the strength to be successful at an opportune time. Jim Bremer: I think it’s also interesting that all of the projections that we put together—of course we ran scenario after scenario—about how much we could save, how we were going to drive the operating rate down, how we were going to be more efficient…all of those things came true, which usually doesn’t happen like that. I think that was amazing in itself.
Could any of you envisioned 10 years ago when we created GreenStone that the association would grow to what it is today? Jim Schiller: Well I really didn’t think it would happen at that rapid of a rate. I think we all thought that there was growth potential, but not at 12 percent compounded annually. And, like I said, part of it was because I think we were ready at the time that agriculture was ready. Timing was very important. Dave Armstrong: No question about that, because if you look at our business plans going back to that time I think our strategic objective for growth was three to five percent year in and year out. And of course, we also picked up another $300 plus million in assets through our merger with Northeast Wisconsin three years later, which we did not foresee at the time. Jim Bremer: There were also some expanded authorities through the Farm Credit System. For example, participations with commercial banks is one thing that didn’t exist before and I don’t think we anticipated being able to take advantage of those opportunities.
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As this merger idea was coming to fruition, how was it decided who would lead the new organization? Carl Jessen: Jim Bremer was really the architect of this whole plan and structure. We were fortunate that there was 20 years difference between Dave and me, and then the two Jims started their careers between us. I don’t know how Jim came up with it, but it seemed to work. (laughter)
“Overall, we were fortunate to be able to combine the best talent in the state and to be able to create a team that was much more powerful and effective than if we were operating separately.” Jim Bremer: Well, there was a lot of cooperation by everyone involved, and we all kind of thought it was a good idea. But, you really had disincentives for the CEOs and then you had the boards which are typically provincial. Also, even though the culture should be the same throughout Farm Credit, it really was not. You look at two associations from within the Farm Credit family and it looks like two different countries at times. So, even though we were headed towards merging, there were times it looked like it maybe wasn’t going to happen. You know, I think we all thought at least once that maybe this isn’t going to work well for me. So, at 3 a.m. one morning I woke up and I said to myself I know what I’m going to have to do…I’m going to have to step out of this because there is no way that any other association was going to feel comfortable coming to our building in Lansing as the headquarters and have me as the CEO with our staff. It just wasn’t going to work. So the four of us had a
meeting and I said I have an idea…there was a lot of silence, but we eventually started to work on making that idea a reality. That was about nine months prior to the merger and that is really when the excitement around this merger began to grow.
There are many states that still have multiple Farm Credit associations. Why do you think more of them have not been able to come together like your four associations did 10 years ago? Jim Bremer: There really is no incentive for one CEO to marry up with another CEO if one of them is going to lose his job. Financial stress will dictate a merger, as will credit problems or a retiring CEO. But, there is really no financial incentive in our cooperative structure for four CEOs to come together, when three of them are not going to have the same job that they had before.
A LOOK BACK AT THE YEAR 2000 Just like today, there were dramatic events happening in the year 2000 when GreenStone Farm Credit Services was created.... • The potential Y2K software problem was predicted to cripple computing systems and cause devastating effects worldwide. • Consumers experienced their first major gas price hike of the decade when gas rose from an average of $1.11 to $2.00 per gallon.
Dave Armstrong: And I think it’s not just management, but the boards have the same type of ownership of these associations. So when things are going relatively well, they like the independence, they like to be acknowledged for the success that they were part of, and they like the fellowship and camaraderie that the board brings. Not to mention, you have other staff members that a merger impacts as well.
• The St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl and the New York Yankees defeated the New York Mets four games to one for their third straight World Series championship.
So, typically a Farm Credit merger is full of disincentives for staff and board members even though there often are advantages for stockholders. It can be difficult to get over those.
• Hillary Clinton, the First Lady at the time, was elected to the U.S. Senate. Mrs. Clinton was the first First Lady elected to become a U.S. Senator.
How were the boards of directors for each association combined after this transition? Carl Jessen: Well that again started years before the actual merger. Having the different associations meet to discuss issues and plan together allowed the board members to get to know each other and develop a level of trust in each other. Without that interaction, this would have been much more difficult. But once the merger was completed, we ended up with 42 directors. And, I remember Jim Schiller and I agreeing that I would take that piece (working with the directors) of the CEO job, and since he would be following me in a year and a half he would manage all of the operations. So while he was working on the general day to day activities, I was working on governance and working closely with the board. It seemed to work very well for both of us.
• Vice President Al Gore ran a tight presidential race against Texas Governor George W. Bush. Voting machine problems and the recounting of votes in Florida plagued the election and led the Supreme Court to intervene and declare President Bush as the winner. • To the benefit of Michigan agricultural producers, four separate regional Michigan Farm Credit Associations joined forces to create a new, stronger company with greater capacity, lower costs, more competitive interest rates, and specialized staff to help grow Michigan agriculture.
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“My final thought is the customer…you’ve got to be able to keep your eye on the customer and I think GreenStone has continued to do that. I bet all four of us can still identify with customers, and I think that is one of the real successes of this organization.” Dave Armstrong: There was an agreement in place ahead of the merger that none of the directors would lose their job initially, but once the merger was completed they would ultimately have to downsize the board from there.
What has the merger meant for the employees of GreenStone?
Jim Schiller: I believe it’s truly been advantageous for all of the staff. There is much more opportunity with the market segmentation that we really wouldn’t have had the chance to get involved in separately. In fact before the merger, in Southeast we were looking at the possibility of closing offices and going after only certain types of customers. And, with a larger organization, you have that middle-management level that is just not a possibility with a smaller association. So I think it created tremendous opportunities for employees. It maybe was a little hard to sell that idea to employees in the beginning, but in the end it’s definitely been a positive.
Milestones in GreenStone Farm Credit Services’ History January 1, 2000
January 1, 2010
The merger of FCS of Michigan’s Heartland, FCS of East Central Michigan, FCS of Southeastern Michigan, and FCS of West Michigan forms GreenStone Farm Credit Services with $1.6 billion in assets. Carl Jessen is named the Chief Executive Officer. Jim Schiller is named the Chief Operating Officer.
GreenStone FCS celebrates its 10 year anniversary.
January 1, 2003
March 13, 2006
January 2, 2009
FCS of Northeast Wisconsin joins GreenStone FCS which expands GreenStone’s territory into the state of Wisconsin.
GreenStone FCS returns $12.5 million to its eligible cooperative members as its first patronage distribution.
Jim Schiller retires and Dave Armstrong is named CEO.
January 1, 2001
December 31, 2005
February 24, 2009
Carl Jessen retires and Jim Schiller is named CEO.
GreenStone surpasses $3.2 billion in assets.
GreenStone’s growth reaches over $5 billion in owned and managed assets.
GreenStone Board of Directors approves the construction of a new corporate office building.
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What about agreeing on the name GreenStone…how did that process work?
because it allows me to relate to the grandkids and go where it’s warm in the winter.
Jim Bremer: We found a company in Minneapolis called Nametag International, and they did a lot of work and researched the state of Michigan to determine what was unique. They came up with a number of creative names for us to look at, and I think it was finally a board member who said “I think we should get away from this ag credit stuff”. So we settled on GreenStone…which, of course, is the gem stone of the state.
Dave Armstrong: Well, it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster the last couple of years (laughter). The job has been everything that I expected that it would be…a little more adversity than I had anticipated, but it’s all relative. I think GreenStone continues to be in very good shape to carry out its mission for years to come. And, while I have these three guys
Jim Schiller: We really wanted the best of both worlds…we wanted an identity for the non-ag market, yet we were agricultural lenders. So with GreenStone Farm Credit Services, we were able to speak to both of our market segments. And, we didn’t limit ourselves to any specific geographic area because at that time we were thinking there may not be any chartered territories. So the name gave us a separate identity, it didn’t limit us, and yet we still were able to show our association with the Farm Credit System.
What are you doing today? Jim Schiller: I’m kind of learning how to function in a retirement setting, and I’ve found out that I can keep fairly busy by going to Florida for six weeks, joining a country club and playing a little golf, and doing a little farming with my 80 acres. I do miss the competitiveness and the spirit of business, but quite frankly I’m enjoying retirement. Jim Bremer: Well it’s been almost 10 years now since I retired from Farm Credit, and I really wasn’t ready to retire. I was only 59 years of age, so I thought I could find something else. My board in particular wanted me to stay around for another year as a consultant so I spent a lot of time on the merger. From there, I had a shot at the AgriBank CEO job as one of the finalists and I was really excited about that opportunity. But when that didn’t work out, some other Farm Credit opportunities presented themselves in other states…helping work with mergers and other projects. Carl Jessen: I retired about 10 years ago as well and looked around similar to what Jim Schiller is doing now to find out what this retirement thing is all about. And, it’s beautiful…you can set your own schedule and I’m really enjoying retirement. I went back to Boston and took some courses on executive coaching. I then started my own business—Jessen Coaching— and I teach some classes here and there. I coach CEOs and business owners, including quite a few Farm Credit CEOs across the country, mostly by telephone. I’ve enjoyed that a lot,
“The job has been everything that I expected that it would be... GreenStone continues to be in very good shape to carry out its mission for years to come.” here, I just want to thank them for everything they have done for me and my career. It’s been a great run, and I’ve learned something from each one of them. They’ve all mentored me in some way, and I just really appreciate it because without them I wouldn’t be here today. I look forward to the challenges the future will bring and I want to continue to improve on what we started 10 years ago.
Any final thoughts? Carl Jessen: I want to say that while all four of us had a piece in making this GreenStone merger happen, without Jim Bremer setting aside his personal interests like he did it never would have happened, and I’m grateful to Jim for that. Jim Schiller: My final thought is the customer…you’ve got to be able to keep your eye on the customer and I think GreenStone has continued to do that. I bet all four of us can still identify with customers, and I think that is one of the real successes of this organization.
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Year of the Tiger
Calls for Courage Barbara Dartt, DVM, MS Senior Business Consultant, Lookout Ridge Consulting
here’s no doubt that 2009 was a tough year for many— in agriculture and the broader economy. Prices across commodities tumbled. Unemployment grew. Industries stumbled. In considering the lessons of 2009, I will lean on a cliché used far and wide last year... we shouldn’t let a “crisis” go to waste! And indeed, during my work with producers across the agricultural spectrum, I see that the adversity and volatility did bring out the best in many farm men and women. Folks turned back to the core principles of why they chose to be in agriculture and drew on that passion. Family and management exhibited determination, perseverance, hard work and self-reliance. In turning to the future, I find it interesting that the Chinese Zodiac identifies 2010 as the Year of the Tiger. Traits like independence, bravery, boldness and courage are attributable to the tiger—and presumably to any fortunate soul born in 2010. As for our agricultural businesses, it is clear that 2010 will continue to offer challenges. Input prices are not dropping. Prices are stabilizing, at best, but there will certainly be months under the cost of production for at least the swine and dairy sectors. Trying to minimize risk and “stay in the game” will take the tiger-like traits of boldness and courage.
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So here is the rub. Some of the tiger traits will serve you well. However, agricultural producers’ drive for self sufficiency (or to maintain my tiger analogy, think of independence) could lead some business folks and their families far astray from where they really want to end up. I submit that independence, when running a capitalintense business in an increasingly uncertain environment, could lead to real misfortune. The tricky issue here is that in the past, independence has served farmers well. In fact, independence might be one of the traits that contributed to the success of today’s best farmers. Those who were independent survived and consequently our farming population is made up of a bunch of self reliant, private folks who value freedom and individuality. Another feature of independent folks is that they don’t like relying on others for aid or support. Coming out of 2009,
the financial challenges some agricultural businesses face are substantial. Farmers (and their spouses and family members) are smart—they know there are issues. However, in the drive for independence and reluctance to hear potential bad news, I know some producers have not faced the magnitude of their financial challenges. So here is my wish for you in 2010— the Year of the Tiger. Have courage. If you know your business and family have financial challenges, exhibit courage and face the challenges. Get over your need for independence and seek help. Consider your trusted advisors— veterinarians, lenders, agronomists or even your lawyer (it happens!). The ag professionals I know are high integrity folks who really care about the farmers they work with. If they can’t get you the expertise you need, they know people who can. And if your business is financially healthy—congratulations. And, have
courage to reach out and ask for help in another area. Collaboration with key managers, family members or others will set our business apart. Commit to sacrificing a little independence in 2010 and build your skills and your business in a way that doesn’t require cost cutting or capital infusion. Getting the right support for your business and your family is not a sign of weakness—it is a reality of today’s environment. Good business people don’t go it alone. Don’t lean on your independence in 2010, but find the courage to ask for the support you need.
Barb is a Senior Business Consultant with Lookout Ridge Consulting (formerly Salisbury Management Services), a division of AgStar Financial Services, ACA. Barb works with farm families and management teams to help them keep their business healthy and the people happy. Barb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 800.663.5608. The opinions stated herein are not necessarily those of GreenStone FCS.
GreenStone sponsors Michigan Farmers Feed US Program The Michigan Farmers Feed US “Free Groceries for a Year!” sweepstakes program and Web site was launched November 16, 2009. Farmers Feed US is a unique communications platform for farmers to be able to communicate with consumers about the food they raise and educate them about the stewardship, production, and food safety practices that are used. Through a variety of tactics, including media relations, social media, paid advertising, and a retail partnership, the promotional campaign was designed to engage consumers on many different levels, and secure their interest through the use of the “Free Groceries for a Year!” sweepstakes, located at www.FarmersFeedUS.org. At this site, consumers can meet and register to win free groceries for a year (a $5,000 value) with each of the 10 Michigan farmers featured on the site, every day
of the 90-day sweepstakes. Consumers can also choose to take a virtual tour of each farm while on the Web site. As of this writing there were 53,566 sweepstakes registrations to-date. GreenStone Farm Credit Services is a partner and cosponsor with the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan, the Michigan Soybean Committee, Michigan Milk Producers, Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Pork Producers Association, the Michigan Apple Committee, Dairy Farmers of America, the Michigan Milk Producers Association, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, the West Michigan Ag Alliance, Hamilton Farm Bureau, 30 county Farm Bureaus from across Michigan, and The Center for Food Integrity on the Michigan Farmers Feed Us campaign.
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News Update Annual Report Notice This is official notice that the 2009 GreenStone Farm Credit Services Annual Report will be available for viewing online at www.greenstonefcs.com by March 16. In addition, the Annual Report will be mailed to all stockholders within 90 days of year-end.
19th Annual Farm Women’s Symposium The Farm Women’s Symposium will head east this year and hold its 19th annual program at the Doubletree Hotel, Bay City Riverfront on March 10-12, 2010. This program brings together women (and men) involved in agriculture to share in fun, learning and fellowship. Participants create valuable networks, renew friendships, share information, and prepare for the start of another year in agriculture. Michigan’s own Rosemary Ward will kick off the event with “The ABC Advantage”. Also joining the program is Paul Mobley, author of the book “American Farmer: Portraits from the Heartland”, and syndicated cartoonist, Leigh Rubin, who is the creator of “Rubes” cartoons.
contact Sheryl Smith at (517) 543-1360, Julie Schwab at (989) 846-4764, or Louise Courter at (989) 463-5991.
Serving Michigan Proud What a proud moment for Michigan—Alex Henry became the sixth individual since 1928 to represent Michigan as a National FFA Officer. As the Eastern Region Vice President, Alex will serve the 500,000 FFA members nationwide to provide personal growth and leadership training, set policies that shape the future of the organization and promote agricultural literacy.
“Being a national officer isn’t about me. It’s about the students who wear the blue and gold jackets... My vision is to serve FFA members by helping them discover the courage and confidence to pursue dreams beyond their boundaries.”
Thursday’s bus tour will give us a flavor of Michigan’s thumb region with stops at Michigan Sugar Company and the windmills in Elkton, Michigan. This will be a full day of touring with many other exciting stops along the way! Scholarships are available for GreenStone members; contact your local GreenStone office for details. For other scholarship opportunities or questions about the Farm Women’s Symposium,
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Alex, from Elwell, Michigan, was among six individuals selected to hold a national office at the 82nd National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, held in October 2009.
Ladies Day Out – February 12
most recently served as the vice president of credit in East Lansing, servicing the commercial lending and capital markets portfolio.
The 2010 Ladies Day Out event will again be held in Green Bay, Wisconsin at Rock Gardens Banquet and Conference Center. This annual event provides women in agriculture and agribusiness a chance to get together and enjoy a morning of fun, food, and laughter. The speaker this year is Jack McCall, who is a motivational humorist.
As the Chief Credit Officer, Anderson will provide leadership and communications for the Association’s credit direction, lending philosophy and risk management. Furthermore, he will be responsible to assure adequate internal control of credit activities and trends and supervise collateral evaluation programs and processes within GreenStone.
Invitations, with a schedule of the morning’s events, will be mailed to northeast Wisconsin and Michigan Upper Peninsula customers in early January. Remember to reserve your spot by calling your local GreenStone Farm Credit Services branch office. Hope you can join us!
Anderson Named Chief Credit Officer GreenStone Farm Credit Services recently announced the appointment of Paul Anderson as its Chief Credit Officer.
BE PREPARED WITH LIFE INSURANCE. Don’t wait, your local GreenStone branch can help you plan for the unexpected today.
Anderson assumed the role on November 2, 2009, following the retirement of Jerry Brian who served in the position for the previous 10 years. More than 26 years ago, Anderson began his career with the Farm Credit System. He has served in numerous roles over the years, starting as a loan officer, director of audit review, director of special credit, and senior loan officer for Farm Credit Services of Northeast Wisconsin. He then joined AgriBank, FCB as a senior credit officer and manager of credit. In 2004, Anderson began his career with GreenStone as the director of risk assets, followed by the vice president of credit in northeast Wisconsin, and
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This newsletter is published quarterly for the customers of GreenStone Farm Credit Services.
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Published on Jan 1, 2010
GreenStone's quarterly agricultural member publication providing association news, guest columns on timely topics, and feature stories on va...