A Series of {Fortunate} Events

I’m a firm believer that learning is a gradual progression of building blocks. I’m also a firm believer that each of those blocks is carefully laid with intent by the Ultimate Architect. I’m currently smack in the middle of another amazing summer internship at a bank in Malvern, Iowa. If I’d been asked a year ago where I would be working in summer 2016, the tiny town of Malvern wouldn’t have cracked the top 100 guesses. Through an unpredictable series of circumstances, though, God led me here, kicking and screaming all the way.

Long story short, I’m an ag loan officer intern at the one and only Malvern Trust & Savings Bank, and I’m sealing the “application” building block of my education in agricultural lending. Looking back, I would label last summer as the Introductory and Experiential building blocks.

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“The Iowa Bankers Association (IBA) hosted an event for the students in its internship program this week by treating the group to an Iowa Cubs game at Principal Park.” (I’m on the left front, pink shirt)

As a financial officer intern at Farm Credit Services of America, I spent my days shadowing ag loan officers as well as other job families within the company. Compared to this summer, last summer was much more of a “watch and learn” type of internship. I became a living sponge, soaking up every conversation, answer to a question, or committee meeting discussion.

 

 

This summer, I’m diving in headfirst. It’s all hands on deck at this place. No, I’m not actually making loans, although I’ve entered my share of debt modifications and loan applications. Instead, my designated role is to complete a farm inspection of every farm customer with an operating line and then document that inspection.

Gary, an ag loan officer I’m working with, calls me his official scribe. I take notes and pictures of collateral on each farm visit and then return to the office to write a report and label the pictures. I then file the inspection report and pictures in the respective customer’s credit file. So far, I’ve done roughly 22 inspections along with Mike and Gary, the bank’s two ag loan officers.

As an English nerd, this job suits me perfectly. Who would have thought that an ag loan officer does so much writing? Hey wait… so maybe this is why they’re so eager to let me write the reports….

Either way, I don’t care. I enjoy my job. I would like to think that my writing skillset brings something to the table. Hopefully the bank examiners will agree when they read my reports in the fall! Lucky for me, I have to go back to school before the bank exam, so I’ll be off the hook….hehe. Just kidding. They all have my cell number anyway.

In all seriousness, I’ll be sad when the summer comes to an end. The exciting thing is, only one semester stands between my graduation from Dordt College and my December 30th wedding. I think it’s safe to say that the Malvern Bank has prepared me well for a big girl job.

Want to learn more about the Malvern Bank? Website: http://www.malvernbank.com/

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Perks of Being an Ag Ambassador: Attending the World Food Prize

On October 14-16, 2015, I had the privilege of representing Dordt College along with three fellow Ag Ambassadors and Professor Joerger at the World Food Prize convention in Des Moines, IA. My classmates in attendance were Lori Roseland, Andrea Borup, and Imanuel Feo.

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Lori talks with an interested conference attendee

As Ag Ambassadors, our main objective was to increase awareness of Dordt College and promote the Global Ag Summit that Dordt will host in March of 2016. To do this, we took shifts at our exhibit booth, making connections to conference attendees from across the globe.

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Meals were incredibly gourmet and health-conscious, to put it mildly. I can’t say that I enjoyed everything, but I was adventuresome and forced myself to try it.

When we weren’t handing out flyers and exchanging business cards at the exhibit booth, we attended sessions that were of interest to us. All of us were fascinated and challenged by the topics of discussion led by prominent individuals such as Chelsea Clinton, Tom Vilsack, and Howard Buffet. From harnessing the versatility of sweet potatoes, to reducing malnutrition in developing nations, to empowering the female farmers that dominate the agricultural landscape of developing nations, the sessions provided stimulating points of interest for us all.

One highlight of our trip included visiting the World Food Prize Laureate Hall to watch the 2015 recipient of the Borlaug Field Award, Eric Pohlman, receive his

Standing outside the beautiful Laureate Hall in Downtown Des Moines, IA

Standing outside the beautiful Laureate Hall in Downtown Des Moines, IA. I am on the far right.

award. The gorgeous architecture of the hall, along with the inspiring words of the Pohlman, made for an enjoyable evening on Wednesday.

Overall, the World Food Prize opened our eyes to the large-scale efforts, supported by numerous organizations, companies, and individuals, to work toward alleviating global food insecurity and establishing a more sustainable system of agriculture. We were grateful for the opportunity to represent our college and promote an equally admirable event this coming spring.

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Update: I am currently a junior at Dordt College, majoring in Agribusiness and minoring in English writing.

10 Reasons Why Farm Credit Services of America Rocks

For the past ten weeks, I have been blessed with the opportunity to intern with Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA). Today, as I spend my last day at the office , I am reflecting on how fast this summer flew by. It’s amazing to think how much more I know now about agricultural financing and the company itself than I did just three short months ago.

To my great delight, this internship fulfilled my overarching goal- to dispel any doubts or uncertainties, and to confirm that Farm Credit Services of America, the dream job of my high school aspirations, is truly a place I could see myself being a part of. Whether I land a career with FCSA fresh out of college or a little ways down the road, I hope that my final week here is only a “see you later” rather than a “goodbye.”

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For my readers who are unfamiliar with FCSA, the following fun facts will give you a little deeper understanding of who the company is. For my readers who have been with the company for 25 years, maybe this can be reminder of just how good you have it.

The largest agricultural financial services company in the Midwest and the largest crop insurance agency in Iowa, Farm Credit Services of America is a massive cooperative that pays out annual dividends to all of its customers. Headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, its 42 locations are sprinkled throughout Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.

FCSA’s conservative credit standards in the good times and the bad have built a sound lending institution that farmers can trust to finance not only their operations, but also those of future generations. 2014’s net income of $514.6 million was over double what it was in 2008. Amazingly, Iowa farm operations comprise a third of FCSA’s $21.3 billion in total assets.

According to the Des Moines Register’s 2014 Iowa Top Workplaces report, FCSA is the #1 midsized company employer. That wasn’t the first time FCSA made the top workplaces list, either.

After being a part of FCSA for the past ten weeks, I scribbled out a top ten list of some of the biggest advantages and perks that FCSA has to offer its employees. All of the quotes came from the following Des Moines Register article/video which interviews Jim Knuth, senior vice president: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2014/09/21/iowas-top-workplaces-farm-credit-services/15564489/

In no particular order (although food is rather high on my priority list), here are the Top 10 reasons why working for farm credit services of America rocks:

1. Food

I thought the infamous Freshman 15 was bad until I was introduced to the Farm Credit 50. They estimate that every employee will gain about 50 pounds by the time they retire. FCS is also code for fats, carbohydrates, and sugars. From taking customers out to eat, to catered lunch at staff and sales meetings, to the tempting break room snacks, FCSA employees dine like kings.

2. Culture

It’s obvious that the people who work at this company are passionate about their careers and the customers they serve. I met a lot of people this summer with plaques honoring ten or more years of service. Every one of them told me they would never dream of going anywhere else. Perhaps part of why everyone loves the company is because they all feel valued and respected, no matter what their role. “The company has worked to build a culture that’s open and welcomes ideas from workers and customers. ‘It’s not like we think good ideas can only come from three or four executive offices,’ Knuth said.”

3. Meaningful Work

“For us, it’s our whole culture and purpose. … We serve farmers and ranchers who are outstanding, salt-of-the-earth people who work hard every day to grow our food and feed the world. For us, who grew up in the Midwest, who grew up around agriculture, it’s not hard to connect to that purpose. It’s really built into our DNA. Many people have come from a farm, still live on a farm. It’s not something we do. It’s something that we really are. It makes all the difference.” -Jim Knuth

‘Nuff said.

4. Farmers

When I volunteered with Harlan FCSA team members at the Cass County Fair 4-H food stand, I got a Farm Credit T-shirt that proclaimed “I Love Farmers” along with the company slogan, Agriculture Works Here. Call me cheesy, but that cotton tee could easily be the most accurate message my clothing has ever conveyed. I love being a part of an organization whose sole purpose is to help farmers and ranchers.

Nearly every day this summer, I visited the farms of of many hardworking men and women across Southwest Iowa. No matter how hot, dirty, busy, or tired they were, these farmers always paused to shake hands and visit for a while. Senior Vice President Knuth understands the integral relationship between FCSA and farmers. “They’re part of our extended family because we’re a cooperative. They’re not only our customers, but they’re our owners,” Knuth said.

5. Teammates

“We truly believe that no company is greater than the sum of its people.” -Jim Knuth

One of the first things I learned this summer was that each job role (financial officer, closing specialist, account specialist, appraiser, insurance specialist, customer service specialist, etc.) is not strictly confined to its own responsibilities and expectations. Everyone works together to ensure that a loan application transitions smoothly through each que in what I call the assembly line of credit. The insurance team and the financial officers must have a good understanding of each other’s products to answer customers’ questions.

Knuth emphasized that FCSA teammates all pull together to achieve goals and results. As a runner, I understand the balance between individual effort and working together as a team. Without teamwork, progress cannot be make nearly as quickly or effectively. Just like I enjoy being a part of my track and cross country teams, I enjoy being part of a team of like-minded individuals who care about each other and their customers.

6. Flexibility

Every mother in the office has expressed to me her gratefulness for FCSA’s flexible scheduling policy. Financial officers have an especially flexible schedule, since they spend so much time in the country with customers. They often work from their homes or vehicles to get the job done more efficiently than they would from the office. It’s refreshing not to be confined to a cubicle from 8 to 5.

“Teamwork helps add flexibility into the workplace — key to enabling employees ‘to really manage their work-life balance,’ Knuth said. ‘If you have a child who has a ballgame or a band performance at 4 p.m., we encourage you to go … because a work-life balance is so important for us all,’ he said. ‘We have a number of perks, but the ability for employees to truly manage their personal work-life balance — whether it’s a sick child, or a ballgame, or a parent who needs support. … We have a saying: Be fair to yourself and be fair to the company. We find they can care more for their families, and they care more at work. And that’s a win-win situation.'”

7. Pay & Benefits

….are some of the best. Loving your job is important, but at the end of the day, you need to be able to pay the bills and put food on the table. FCSA takes good care of all of its employees, including interns. From health insurance to company vehicles, the benefits reflect a corporate employer with a small-town atmosphere.

8. Community-Oriented

Growing up, I noticed FCSA’s support of youth and the community as a 4-H’er showing at the county fair. Every year, my siblings and I received food vouchers courtesy of Farm Credit to spend at the Pork Producers’ or the Cattlemen’s booth. Farm Credit sponsors the stall cards that I stapled above my chickens’ and pigs’ pens. They also bring drinks and donuts to either the weigh-ins or the auction. I smiled as I watched the thank you cards from Montgomery County 4-Hers flow into the Red Oak office this summer, remembering the days that I used to do the same thing.

4-H and FFA are just two small areas that FCSA supports. Every year, FCSA donates several million dollars to the following initiatives:

Hunger & nutrition

Young & beginning producers

Ag Education

9. Core Values: Honesty and Integrity

Knuth reports these guiding principles to be “completely understood and known throughout our company.” As a Christian, I believe that having a strong set of morals and values will not only honor God but will also be rewarding in your business life.

2 Corinthians 8:21 says, “For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.”

Proverbs 13:11 says, “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it.”

10. Progressive

This summer, the Information Technology and Application Development interns at the headquarters have been working their tails off to critique a new software tool for financial officers called Driveways. They would regularly contact those of us in the retail offices to bounce feedback on its performance from the FO’s. This is just one example of FCSA’s efforts to stay current. The tech support system within this company does a phenomenal job of eliminating the headache of fighting with technology.

“A growing company is a healthy company. And we continue to invest heavily in our future, and our customers’ future (especially with technology). … When our people see that, they feel like we can serve our customers, have the best products, and that makes them feel very satisfied.” -Jim Knuth

Jason and the June Bug

They say nothing good ever happens after midnight. During the recent push to complete acreage reports by the June 15, 2015 deadline, the Red Oak Farm Credit insurance specialists spent a few late nights at the office. Sure enough, Jason P., a crop insurance specialist, experienced an unnerving disruption to his work around 12:30 A.M. one night.

Rewind. Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA) offers a full range of crop insurance insurance products by full-time specialists. This summer, the insurance team of Jason, Marsha, and Doug in my office has dealt with the repercussions of

Stacks of reports kept Marsha busy

Stacks of reports kept Marsha busy

an excessively wet planting season for Southwest Iowa farmers. Many policy holders were forced to take prevented planting, which means they will receive 60-70% coverage of the original guarantee.

After the wave of prevent plant paperwork had passed, the next wall to scale was acreage reports. To avoid penalized payments for any potential losses, farmers must certify their acres with the FSA and then work with their FCSA insurance specialist to file a report of the planting status of all their insured crops. Due to the rainy spring, though, a lot of customers experienced delays that resulted in last-minute acreage reporting. And, from what I observed, college kids aren’t the only masters of procrastination..

More on acreage reporting: http://www.cropinsurancespecialists.com/news/2015/07/15/acreage-reporting-deadline-is-here

Hence, Jason’s late-night rendezvous in the cubicle. As he plowed through one acreage report after another, alone in the newly expanded office, the minutes on the clock ticked by. Music streaming from Pandora warded off the loneliness. Suddenly, the inarticulate muttering of an old woman pervaded the inky darkness. Every hair on the nape of Jason’s neck stood on end.

This wasn’t the first the time the inexplicable little old lady voice had made an appearance. Prior to the recent expansion of this office, both Marsha and Jason reportedly heard the mumbling on separate occasions.

That’s why Jason rolled his eyes and groaned “Not again!” when the Ghost of Grandma made her debut to the newly remodeled office on that late June evening. Like any rational person would do, he tried to ignore the haunting cackle by blasting his music to drown it out. Jason returned his focus to his work, determined not to let the eerie voice deter him.

But fate would prevail. Not a minute later, WHACK! A swift flick on the back of his neck sent Jason shooting straight up out of his chair. At this point, the apartment tenants next door were probably sitting bolt upright in bed. The culprit? A freaking june bug. Jason made sure that pesky insect died a painful death.

As for the Ghost of Grandma, no explanation has yet been found. Moral of the story? Don’t work past midnight.

County Fair Time

As a former 4-H and FFA member, county fair time brings fond memories flooding back. On Tuesday, I took a few hours off to “judge” the Clover Kids who brought static projects in to the Montgomery County Fair. As I asked these adorable 1st-4th graders questions like, “What kind of problems did you run into while you made this peach pie?” I couldn’t help but remember how nervous I used to get on judging day. I would tuck in my 4-H t-shirt and skim through my write-up for the third time before approaching the judge with a smile, a firm handshake, and an introduction.

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My sister Anna carried on the 4-H tradition this year with her state-qualifying Jemima Puddle Duck watercolor painting.

My ultimate goal with static projects was to earn that massive, purple rosette that booked my ticket to the Iowa State Fair. Over the years, my efforts paid off, and I had multiple static, communications, and floriculture exhibits go to the State Fair.

Farm Credit Services of America recognizes and supports the hard work of 4-H members all across its four-state territory. Many FCSA teammates, as we call each other, grew up showing at the county fair and now have kids and grandkids involved in the program. This week, my mentor Chad Jacobs and his wife are jumping into the bustle of the Montgomery County Fair with their twin daughters.

The Jacobs girls are showing static projects, goats, rabbits, and beef cattle. Like any dedicated 4-H family, the Jacobs started preparing for this week of weigh-ins, washings, and judging months ago. It has been fun to hear about the progress of the twins’ projects since the beginning of my internship through Chad’s stories and updates, which are almost always accompanied by a picture. 🙂

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Chad picked up freshly baked pastries before the auction started and delivered them to the auction.

Yesterday, Chad and I made a well-received FCSA representation at the Adam’s County Fair livestock auction. While Chad mingled with community members and caught up with several of his customers, auction-goers consumed 7 gallons of lemonade, 4 gallons of iced tea, and 13 dozen donuts from the Corning bakery. Every summer, Red Oak’s Farm Credit office delivers similar batches of refreshments to livestock auctions and weigh-ins at 8 different county fairs in Southwest Iowa. Event volunteers, parents and 4-H members alike enjoy the refreshments courtesy of FCSA.

In addition, FCSA demonstrates its support of rural youth in the community through the following contributions:

The only problem with the boards is that that the Farm Credit logo is on the smooth side, which handlers typically turn inward so their knees don't get caught in the grooves on the opposite side.

The only problem with the boards is that that the Farm Credit logo is on the smooth side, which handlers typically turn inward so their knees don’t get caught in the grooves on the opposite side.

  • Cash donation to the fair board for general purposes
  • Provide stall cards for every livestock exhibitor
  • Donate sorting panels for hogs
  • Provide T-shirts in some counties
  • Donate $3 or $5 meal tickets to every 4-H member for food at the fair
  • Buy pies or other baked goods at auctions for the Endowment Fund
  • Cash donation to 4-H Endowment Fund for scholarships

Iowa State Fair Involvement: provide stall cards for every livestock exhibitor

Without the support of many local businesses like Farm Credit

Livestock exhibitors fill out stall cards like this and staple them up above their pens.

Livestock exhibitors fill out stall cards like this and staple them up above their pens.

Services of America, I don’t think county fairs would survive. Growing up, I stapled many stall cards above my pen of three broilers, but I never really stopped to think about what would happen if Farm Credit hadn’t provided those green and white claims of ownership.

Exhibitors may take it for granted, but the generosity and support of businesses in the community like Farm Credit Services of America is what keeps these county fairs going strong. Farm Credit understands the need for youth in agriculture and the need for community involvement. That’s why Farm Credit Services of America works hand in hand with the extension service and county fair boards to promote thriving county fairs.

Celebrating America’s Birthday Around the Kitchen Table

Careers in agriculture typically aren’t glamorous. Nonetheless, my summer internship with Farm Credit Services of America (FCSA) is confirming my desire to work with farmers on a daily basis. I’m not seeking glamour anyway…I simply want to make a difference in the lives of rural Americans.

Last week, I spent a day visiting farmers in Audubon County, IA with Cy Monson, a financial officer out of the Harlan FCSA office. When we knocked on the well-loved farmhouse door for an early morning appointment, the couple’s five sons scrambled to gulp their breakfast down and clear off the kitchen table so their guests could have a seat.

Later on that day, Cy made an interesting observation. Cy said that in his years as a seed salesman, he was lucky to hold a customer’s attention for five minutes, even if he had called ahead of time. Now, when Cy needs to meet with a customer, he’s amazed how they always make time in their busy schedules to sit down and have a thorough discussion with him. To me, that speaks volumes about the level of respect farmers have for FCSA.

After Cy had discussed the customers’ matters with closing on a real estate purchase, he and I spent another 20 or 30 minutes discussing current political and religious happenings in America with this amiable farm couple. Out a picture window, I watched the boys bringing the farmyard to life. One jumped on a 4-wheeler and roared up the gravel road, another took off in an old Deere with a liquid manure spreader, and the visiting cousin fed the Golden Retriever.

fcsAs we bounced ideas off one another and reflected on the happenings within our nation, I mentally surveyed the scene from an outside-in perspective…and I liked what I saw.

I saw a hardworking father and husband, dedicated to serving customers through Farm Credit Services of America. I saw a middle-aged husband and wife- tired, but content. I saw their devotion to their teenage children and their farm operation.

In the midst of that mundane conversation about the 2016 Presidential candidates, I saw connections being made and lasting relationships being formed. I saw trust, respect, and integrity on both sides of that wooden table.

As I observed one step of the process through which a farmer financed the purchase of farm ground, I thought, “Now THIS is what I struggled to verbalize in scholarship essays that asked about my career goals and ambitions.” When I say I want to work directly with farmers, I mean it in an eggs-and-bacon, over-the-kitchen-table, 9-AM kind-of-way.

I’ll take a refill of sweet tea, please. I might be here a while.

Happy 4th of July, folks. God Bless.

From Amish Buggies to Marilyn Monroe

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 IMG_3615_2Amish 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:

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Financial Officers carry plat maps with them at all times to help them find fields and homes. GPS doesn’t work in a lot of the rural areas they cover.

*Pull into the farm and check for the farmer in the machine shed, shop, or field first. The house is a last resort.

  1. Introductions & handshakes
  2. So how much rain did you get?
  3. Leads to small talk that involves asking me a few get-to-know-you questions
  4. FO mentions Farm Credit and gives out his business card
  5. More small talk
  6. Long pause…”Well, I’ll let you get back to work”
  7. 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.