Looking Ahead with Darrell Curtis
We recently celebrated our 75th episode of the Field Notes by AgChoice podcast and interviewed Darrell Curtis, AgChoice’s president and CEO, to share an Association update and perspectives for the remaining part of the year.
2021 has already been a year of change and milestones in many ways, both pandemic- and non-pandemic-related. Darrell, could you reflect on what we’ve seen so far in 2021?
We're all adjusting to the new normal, and we're very thankful that the worst of the pandemic seems to be over. We're certainly keeping our eye on commodity price inflation, which can obviously be favorable for some and very unpleasant for others, as well as the future direction of federal programs. Our staff is very much enjoying renewed opportunities for more face-to-face visits with their fellow employees and customers.
Through all this, your association remains strong. Credit quality is excellent. We're growing at an annualized pace of about 7%, with better results actually anticipated in the second half of the year, and our earnings are ahead of budget.
That all bodes very well for another strong patronage here, and that comes after we had $42.5 million distribution to customers this spring. I think what we're seeing is our customers are resilient and they're excellent business managers. Because of this they've adapted to new opportunities and they're focused on improving their businesses.
One other thing we're seeing is tremendous interest in homes and properties in rural areas with people moving away from the cities. This is what the Wall Street Journal has called the “great reshuffling.” So the demand is strong and is certainly driving up property values.
Darrell, you had a recent article in AgChoice’s Leader magazine describes AgChoice’s focus on supporting the next generation of farmers. Tell us more about why AgChoice is dedicated to young, beginning and small farmers.
For certain there are a few things at AgChoice that are more important than helping the next generation begin a successful farming career. This year we have something new. We've reworked some of the existing programs, and we've created entirely new programs to better support this audience. In some of the programs themselves, when we're making loans to eligible young, or beginning, and small farmers, we now offer automatic rate reduction of 0.25 percent, and also $250 off loan origination fees. We've also modified our credit approval standards to help more beginning farmers get started. We know that starting up, or acquiring a farm in 2021, it certainly isn't easy, and this is our way to help.
I'm also excited to share a little bit about some other things we're doing, including Jumpstart Grants, which are specifically designed for startup farmers. Here, we're offering 10 $10,000 grants, and applications are being accepted through the end of August. So if you know somebody that started a farm in the last few years, or is planning to start one in the next couple of years, encourage them to apply for these grants. You can learn about the details of the programs at agchoice.com/grow, or listen to podcast episode 69 with Crystal Standish. She is our chief sales and marketing officer.
In addition, we're offering 10 grants of $5,000 each to use towards a free feasibility study for farms with young or beginning farmers looking to grow or diversify their businesses.
So lots of new programs that we're offering here, rate and fee reductions, startup grants, and feasibility study assistance. We still believe there are great opportunities for people to start ag businesses. This area of the United States has very competitive advantages, such as access to markets and ample water supplies.
Overall, I just want everyone to know that our directors, and our staff, are very passionate about helping new farmers succeed.
Besides supporting beginning farmers, what are some of AgChoice’s other priority areas for this year?
We have a lot of priority areas, and I'll just mention a few.
Rural home and land loans are important, and we're enhancing our staffing and our processes to meet this demand. When we grow loans in this area, it makes AgChoice stronger and more profitable. That diversification in the portfolio really helps.
We also have a project we call easy loan extension, been working on it for about two years. It's designed to make the loan application and approval process easier to manage for our staff and, especially, our customers. Those actions will speed up the process and, hopefully, reduce aggravation for everyone.
We also need to continue focusing on growing and developing our employees. They are motivated, many of them grew up on farms in rural areas. But what we need to do is just continue their training as they gain experience to better serve our customers.
Another priority area is our consulting, recordkeeping, and tax services continues to grow at about 20% per year. We continue to focus on providing services that, not only meet the customers' needs, but also we really hope to help and be better business and financial managers.
As we wrap up, please share any other final thoughts with our listeners and what you’re looking forward to the most during this second half of 2021.
There's a lot to look forward to. We're excited about our four Shake-Up Your Summer events, which will occur in August and September across the association area. These will provide milkshakes and food for our customers.
We're also looking forward to continued growth, helping customers with their credit, and their service needs, which they might have put on hold over the last year or so. As I noted earlier, we can't wait to see more people out on the farm after a year or so when that was hard to do.
It's a wonderful time to serve ag and rural communities, and we appreciate the trust our customers place in us.
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