Whoever says Iowa lacks diversity needs to work for Farm Credit Services of America.
Within a 24-hour period last week, I encountered characters from polar opposite ends of the social and political spectrums: the likeness of Marilyn Monroe…and the Amish. Tucked away in the Missouri River valley of Harrison County, the side of a dilapidated barn sports a larger-than-life graffiti of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. The very next day, in Mt. Ayr, Iowa, I saw an Amish man “park” his horse and buggy in the parking lot of a dollar store.
Ok, so maybe this isn’t the kind of diversity you took a mandatory survey or tutorial for at your workplace or in school. Nonetheless, the Farm Credit lenders and insurance agents I have shadowed thus far have revealed to me more cultural and historical lessons about Southwest Iowa than I ever dreamed existed.
As you may have guessed, my financial officer (FO) internship is comprised of mostly hands-on experience and not a lot of office work. On any given day, I can likely be found riding around the countryside with an FO in his or her company pickup. I can always tell which FO’s farm in addition to their Farm Credit job by the amount of dirt in the cab. Some will even confess that their wives made them clean their truck for the intern.
I quickly learned that Farm Credit Service’s activity levels fluctuate in accordance with the seasons of agriculture. When regular credit management work is slow in the summer, FO’s work hard to meet their sales goals for the year by doing a lot of prospecting. Currently, low grain prices and a stagnant real estate market have cut new lines of credit down substantially. Aside from maintenance of relationships with existing customers, many of the visits I am making with FO’s this summer are cold calls.
I never realized how much of a sales job ag lending was until I started this internship. The difference between FCS and your average local bank, however, is that FCS extends lines of credit very selectively. Only customers with good credit standings, low risk profiles, and solid collateral get approved for credit. FCS’s conservative approach to ag lending makes it a rock solid institution.
I’m sure that highly structured sales strategies exist for making calls to prospective customers. From what I have witnessed, however, most FO’s prefer to ditch the script and make a visit more casual and personal.
The formula for success looks something like this:
*Pull into the farm and check for the farmer in the machine shed, shop, or field first. The house is a last resort.
- Introductions & handshakes
- So how much rain did you get?
- Leads to small talk that involves asking me a few get-to-know-you questions
- FO mentions Farm Credit and gives out his business card
- More small talk
- Long pause…”Well, I’ll let you get back to work”
- Either 5 minutes more small talk or get in the truck and leave
The majority of these on-farm visits take place outdoors and involve a tour of the operation. I quickly figured out why it’s important to wear jeans, a Farm Credit Services polo, and boots. My 3 inch heels and polka dot dress didn’t fare so well in the tomato nursery.
Three weeks in, I’m learning. I’m seeing the hidden culture of Southwest Iowa, one county blacktop at a time.