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When Macy Staggs and her husband Nick set out to start their own farming operation, Farm Credit Mid-America was key to making their dream a reality.
“We started in the Young, Beginning and Small Farmers Program with a loan for our first big farm. It was very beneficial and helped us budget so that we were able to purchase more land and grow our farming business,” says Staggs, who owns and operates a corn, soybean and cattle operation in Adams County, Ohio. “Farm Credit Mid-America has always been great to work with.”
Staggs has been a customer of the financial services cooperative for five years, and for the past year she’s served on its Advocate Council, a diverse group of more than 300 Farm Credit Mid-America customers committed to providing feedback and to ensure a positive experience for all customers and rural communities.
We recently connected with four advocates about their goals on the council, experiences as Farm Credit Mid-America customers, challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and more.
As an advocate, Staggs says one of her primary goals is to help aspiring farmers succeed – just as Farm Credit Mid-America helped her family farm get off the ground.
“It’s my hope that I can help other young farmers get the help that I was able to receive,” she says.
Fellow advocate Isaac Greenwell also sought assistance from the Association as a young farmer in western Kentucky, where he farms alongside his father and two younger brothers. Together they grow 10,000 acres of corn and soybeans, in addition to managing several center-pivot irrigation systems.
“As an advocate, I want to create opportunities for farmers of all sizes and geographies – whether you’re farming 10 acres or 20,000 acres,” says Greenwell, a Western Kentucky University graduate and fifth-generation farmer based in Uniontown, Ky.
Despite the pandemic altering some of the Advocate Council’s plans for 2020, he says Farm Credit Mid-America has continued to foster important dialogues among advocates. And as a customer-owner of the Association, he’s felt supported amid these uncertain times.
Although COVID-19 has certainly created challenges in the ag industry, Greenwell points out that work on the farm hasn’t subsided. He still planted in the spring, maintained the crops all summer, and now is busy harvesting – no differently than ever before.
“Farmers are relentless. We adapt. We compromise. If there is any challenge during this pandemic, a farmer is going to find a way to overcome it,” says Greenwell, who considers farmers part of the essential workforce. “We deal with challenges we have no control over, year in and year out. Despite the pandemic, it’s just another day out here.”
For Indiana farmer and advocate Luke Dougherty, the pandemic has revealed “how everything can turn on a dime.” The Purdue University graduate grew up on a family farm and purchased his own central Indiana farm where he grows seed corn, non-GMO soybeans, food-grade corn, wheat and cucumbers.
COVID-19 “revealed some fragility in my own operation,” such as not being able to get the necessary parts for his equipment. It’s been the first major adversity he’s faced since he started farming, he says, and it’s been a relief to have Farm Credit Mid-America in his corner.
Throughout the pandemic, Dougherty says the Association has been encouraging and supportive.
“They were a calming voice saying, ‘We’re okay, we’re strong, the operation is strong,’” he says. “It was definitely nice to have that.”
It’s also reassuring to be part of a cooperative, particularly at a time like this.
“It helps to know you’re a part of a larger cooperative of farmers across the nation that are banding together for the common good. There’s power in that,” Dougherty says. “Who knows how another lender would have responded. Maybe they would have been oblivious to the ebbs and flows of the ag community. When you know your lender can say, ‘We know where you’re coming from, we know what’s going on,’ that’s the greatest comfort.”
All the advocates interviewed for this story echoed the sentiment that Farm Credit Mid-America has been a welcome presence during a tumultuous time. And according to Hunter Watson, that’s par for the course with the Association.
The east Tennessee native was raised on a farm, and after several years working as a school teacher after college, he couldn’t resist the call of farm life.
“I was in my 20s at the time, had never really had a big purchase, and suddenly I’m buying a million-dollar [poultry] farm,” he recalls. “I got with Farm Credit Mid-America and it literally made the financial aspect of agriculture 1,000 times better than it would have been with another bank.”
Now a member of the Advocate Council in addition to being a loyal customer, Watson says Farm Credit Mid-America has a “small-town vibe,” and it’s clear customers are their top priority.
“I know everyone at the office even though I don’t go to their office that much. But they’ll come down to the farm just to check on you,” he says. “It lets you know that they actually care about what you’re doing. It adds a sense of community to the whole process.”
Learn more about Farm Credit Mid-America’s Advocate Council here.
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