The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Farmers and bankers both in generational shifts

KANSAS CITY — While there is a lot of talk about aging farmers and the shift to a new generation, a less unheralded generation shift is taking place among agricultural bankers, a panel of bankers of different ages said at the National Agricultural Bankers Conference here last week, hosted by the Americans Bankers Association.

When members of the audience were asked how many had started in banking before 1986 when the last agricultural crisis took place, a lot of hands went up. But many of those bankers will not be in the business much longer, they said, and the job of dealing with the current agricultural situation will fall to younger generations.

The issue will be whether generations of bankers can learn together before a crisis occurs, they said.

Samuel Miller, the managing director for agricultural banking at BMO Harris in Appleton, Wis., said that he regards the 1970s as a “go” period in agriculture, the 1980s as a “no go” period, and the 1990s as a “slow go” period.

Some members of the younger generation of farmers “think they have broken into a money-making machine,” said Keith Phillips, the senior vice president of the First Bank and Trust Company in Harrisonburg, Va.

Dinese Watson, the vice president for lending at Merchants Bank of Indiana in Lynn, said she had trouble with a young customer who had a great presentation to her, but instead of looking at her when they were talking kept texting.

Watson said that since the young man was texting when he came to ask for a loan, she wondered what it would be like to deal with him if he were in trouble. “What is his character?” she said she asked herself.

<br />Caleb Hopkins
Caleb Hopkins
Caleb Hopkins, a loan officer at the Westside State Bank in Halbur, Iowa, who started banking in 2011 when he graduated from college, said he likes to help people achieve “what they do not know how to achieve.”

But he has had to learn “to dress to suit the customer.” Some want him to wear blue jeans, others expect khakis, and some get mad if he wears a tie.

Hopkins said if there is trouble ahead he won’t worry about the elderly farmers because they went through the 1980s and have put cash away. And he won’t worry about the youngest farmers because they are saving money to buy farms and are also better educated than the older farmers.

The age group to be worried about, Hopkins said, are “the 45-year-olds. Their dads took care of the problems, they have not had to tighten their belts.”