From row crop farming alongside his grandfather in Iowa to leading the efforts of FSA, NRCS, and RMA in support of producers across the U.S., Bill Northey is a true advocate for agriculture. Listen in as Outstanding in the Field host, Mike Terning, has great conversation with the current Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation with the USDA, including comments on the state of American agriculture in the midst of COVID-19.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • About Bill Northey’s strong agricultural background and the path that led him to his current role as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) with the United States Department of Agriculture
  • How his role directly impacts American farmers through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Risk Management Agency (RMA)
  • How the USDA is still working tirelessly through COVID-19 restraints to serve American agriculture

Relevant links:

Listen to the podcast:

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Mike:   Hello. This is Mike Terning. I’m the host of Outstanding in the Field, a podcast by Greenstone Systems. I’d like to welcome you to another episode of our podcast. Today I’m very pleased to have a guest who is with the United States Department of Agriculture. His name is Bill Northey. Bill could you please introduce yourself to our listening audience today.

Bill:   Sure Mike. Glad to be on with you. Certainly. We first met actually because I was listening to your podcast and reached out and mentioned I had enjoyed some of it. We talked later about whether to come on. My roots go back to Iowa. I grew up on a farm there and started farming and then started getting involved in organizations. Served as president of the National Corn Growers, Iowa Corn Growers Association. Then back in 2006 ran for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa. It’s an elected office there. Was successful and served almost three terms as Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa before coming to USDA a little over a few years ago now. In our area USDA primary [inaudible] in what called mission areas is farm service agency and natural resources conservation service. Both of those are those service centers across the country. Then risk management agency, which works with the companies on crop insurance. So conservation, farm programs, farm loans, property insurance programs. Obviously, we call it kind of the farmer facing parts of USDA. Of course, a lot of other parts of USDA does face and certainly is important in times like these. We get a chance to work with farmers across the country.

Mike:   Well, we thank you very much for your service. Obviously, a lot of interesting dynamics these days as there always seems to be within production agriculture.

Bill:   Right.

Mike:   So let’s roll back just a little bit further for our audience. So you grew up near northwestern Iowa.

Bill:   Spirit Lake in Iowa. Yep, Spirit Lake up in northwest Iowa, five miles from the Minnesota border. About 100 miles east of Sioux Falls. Iowa Great Lakes area we call it up there. It may not be known to everybody around the country, but it certainly is a beautiful place to grow up. I think a farm is a wonderful place wherever it’s at.

Mike:   Yep. My in-laws live in Worthington, Minnesota.

Bill:   Yes, very close.

Mike:   When we go up and visit we take the 45 minute drive over and poke around Arnold’s Park and usually go out for dinner at Minerva’s or some place like that.

Bill:   Yep, yep.

Mike:   So yep. We’ve been to—They have like a flea market on Memorial Day?

Bill:   Absolutely. Memorial Day and Labor Day flea market. I don’t know what the plans are this year as Memorial Day starts to approach. Hopefully, that will still be possible, but challenging times for everybody everywhere.

Mike:   Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Well great. So you grew up farming. Row crops in Iowa there or did you have livestock?

Bill:   Row crops, yep. Corn and dry beans, yep. My dad had raised hogs and cattle, mostly cattle. They had a feedlot operation. So he would generally feed outside yards and inside in a confinement building maybe a 1,000 head of cattle. Buy calves either western calves or southern calves, bring them—calves or yearlings—bring them in and feed them out. I grew up thinking a perfect day is getting a chance to drive a skid loader and drive manure or chopping silage and hauling silage wagons around. It’s one of those places where you always need another hand. You’ve got chores to do and you’re pulling somebody off to do that. So a 14 year old kid can feel valuable because you get something that matters that you can be able to work on and learn and grow and make a mistake or two without causing real problems. Learn and feel some responsibility.

Mike:   Well, I can relate to that too. I grew up working on a farm as well. It teaches perseverance too doesn’t it.

Bill:   It does. It does.

Mike:   So then you grew up on the farm. You decided you’d had Iowa [inaudible], right?

Bill:   I did. I went to Iowa State University. Actually, I really never thought about going anyplace else. My dad and mom met there. Actually, my mom’s folks had gone there too. So, I was third generation. I grew up going to games and getting on campus and never really looked anyplace else or considered anyplace else. Actually, two of our three daughters have graduated from there as well. So, they’ve been fourth generation. It’s a great experience. Agricultural business was my major at Iowa State.

Mike:   Okay great. Well great. So, you are not a Hawkeye fan by any stretch then would be my guess, right?

Bill:   You know I’m not. Although, my wife is a graduate from the University of Iowa. She grew up in Ames and she was a nurse. There was no getting a nursing degree at Iowa State, so she went to University of Iowa. So, I certainly watched some Hawkeye games and don’t cheer against them as much as some of my family members do.

Mike:   So are you a house divided then between the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes?

Bill:   We are a little bit, but we’re probably both fans of each other’s a little bit just because that’s it.

Mike:   Sure, sure. Well right out of college I lived and worked in Davenport, Iowa for a little bit. I realized then that the further south one gets the more college football turns into a religion. So I was surprised at how much hatred there was for the Hawkeyes of the Cyclones and vice versa. So yeah.

Bill:   We don’t have pro teams to argue about in Iowa, so we do it about college teams.

Mike:   Well I’m from Minnesota. So, some would say we don’t have a pro team either.

Bill:   I grew up a Vikings fan. Some of this is about perseverance just like agriculture.

Mike:   Yeah. I haven’t given up yet. I don’t know if I’ll be one or not, but we’ll find out. Okay. So, did you head back to the farm after you got your degree?

Bill:   I did. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Dad had a great operation, but sometimes we’re almost too much alike. I didn’t know that we really wanted to farm together. My grandfather came to me. His name was Sid—Sid Northey. He came to me between my junior and senior year at Iowa State and said, “I’m 80 years old and thinking about retiring someday. I’d love to have you come back and think about running my operation.” Very near mom and dad’s. In fact they had partnered together for a while and then just separated there farms. Grandpa was farming on his own and Dad was farming on his own. So I went back and farmed with my grandfather, which was just a great experience. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to work with him everyday and understand how he made decisions. We’re very differential to each other. Sometimes we’d not make a decision because we’re waiting for each other to make it. So it was just an experience I probably value more every year having a chance to spend seven or eight years working with my grandfather and kind of understanding his philosophy of farming.

It was challenging times. It was the 80s. I graduated from Iowa State back in ’81. Certainly, his help allowed me to get through that. The ‘80s were challenges. I watched some folks go through some tough times that probably limited my aggressiveness as I watched my neighbors and probably caused me to be a little more interested in the advocacy piece through Corn Growers and Farm Bureau and some of the other things. So I was active in those volunteer kind of activities while I was farming full time. The farming was a job with a little bit of off farm working for a farm business association. Those kinds of things just kind of add a few dollars to a farming operation that struggles in the 1980s.

Mike:   Yeah. Certainly, those were bleak days when we’re talking about—Man what were interest rates something like 20%? Yeah it was tough. Alright. Well, then you evidently continued to scale up your advocacy of ag as you previously mentioned. So, what happened to the farm?

Bill:   Continued to farm. I had some part-time help. Some full-time help to start with and then some part-time help after that to help me continue to farm. I had some livestock early on. As things went along and I was gone more and went to part-time help just certainly for the sake of dollars and other things, I really just evolved into a crop only operation. In the Midwest, if you’ve got equipment that can handle it—I wasn’t a big operation by any means—you can spend some time away and still keep a crop operation growing along as well. As long as you have help in the spring and the fall and you can get your grain hauling done and some of the equipment fixing and other things done that you need to the other times of the year.

Mike:   So, when you were spending a lot of time with the Iowa Department of Agriculture were you living in Des Moines?

Bill:   I was. So, I was living in Des Moines from 2006 until we came out here. Run home on weekends and try and get farming done. Try and take a little time off if I needed to spring or fall but mostly did farming on weekends. Hired a little bit more in the spring done and some of those things as time went on. I was able to keep farming all the time I was secretary until I needed to come out here. Then actually even legally because I could make some decisions that would effect my farming operations or my payments or those kinds of things, my crop insurance, I needed to separate and not have any actual farming interest anymore. So the bit that we were renting I could rent to my brother-in-law and sister. The stuff that we owned we could rent to them as well. I don’t have any interest in any growing crop anymore, but that’s just been the last couple of years. I certainly miss not getting on a tractor, but we get around a little bit to see ag in other places from potato farming to ranches in Texas and other things. If we’re around here on weekends up until the last several weeks, we get out and around this area too. When you get out in farms half an hour or 45 minutes from DC, there’s agriculture all around it. Whether you go east, south, north, or west there’s agriculture out here too. I need a little bit of that if I spend all week in the office.

Mike:   I can definitely relate to that. I love getting out in the country and meeting with customers and driving by fields and farms and all of that.

Bill:   Absolutely.

Mike:   Yeah. Well great. Well, you’ve kind of had an interesting last couple of months. Under normal circumstances, what would a normal day in your life or week in your life or month in your life look at with USDA?

Bill:   So, our mission, we have about actually 10,000 in NRCS and about 10,000 employees in FSA. The missionary itself was when we include RMA—Risk Management Agency—and our business center, which is all of our administrative functions. We have about 22,000 employees or so. We’ve got about 5,000 offices across the country that we’re watching over and paying attention to. So obviously there’s always pieces around just staffing and administrative pieces. Interesting as can be from IT decisions and other support to even resources decisions. IT being just all of the things from making sure everybody has a computer to making sure somebody can get a computer fixed when we need to. Making sure that we have systems that send off folks that want to access the information about our producers out there. Then program activities. So a lot of discussion around the [standing up ph?] farm bill, the 2018 farm bill, all of those program activities from the new ARC/PLC program which is a support program for grain producers, field crop producers out there to dairy Margin Coverage Program, which was related to the previous program called Margin Protection Program but was a dairy coverage program. Very important to some producers who bought it last year that now have it this year. Standing that up. So, we get a chance to be able to talk about those policies.

I would say probably a third of my time or 40% of my time is kind of managing program activities, managing the kind of administrative activities that need to happen to keep stuff going. Probably a short third of the time is meeting with groups as they’re coming through or I’m having conversations with them. When they’re away, we’re talking to them by phone. A lot of folks come through Washington, share their concerns about either a program that needs some additional work or other kinds of things. About a third of the time probably was spent outside the office, getting around the country. Before we got shut down, I think I’ve been to 46 states so far around the country just usually for a day or two in a state. [inaudible] state several times. Getting out and seeing, getting through some of our county offices, our state offices, meeting with producers in those areas as well. Trying to understand the things that are different. I mentioned potato country in northern Maine or where there’d been a wildfire in Texas that had taken a ranch. Our NRCS folks had been in to help some producers get their ranch going again and pay for some of the fencing and other kinds of things going on. It’s understanding the uniqueness. I certainly know a little bit of my world, although things always change from northwest Iowa and corn and soybeans.

There’s a lot of parts of this country. Although, I would argue farmers are similar in their independence and their pride and their humility. I think there’s a very special combination of pride and humility in farmers. I would argue markets keep us humble and weather keeps us humble. It’s hard to be too proud of yourself, but there’s pride in what you’re doing. Boy farming is different. You plop a Midwest corn farmer down in specialty crops in Florida. If we didn’t have our neighbors to try to copy, we’d starve to death. There’s just so many differences place to place that we don’t even realize what we know about the place we grew up until somebody else comes in. Or we find ourselves in some place else trying to understand why in the world they till it that way, plant at this time, harvest the way that they do or choose the maturities the way that they do or they rotation that they use.

So, it’s really very interesting, very enjoyable getting out, but it also makes us better in the way that we run our programs because we’re able to hear the different things about of our pieces. Our farm programs, our conversation programs, our crop insurance programs. For all we have 550 different versions of crop insurance that are available to different producers. A couple of hundred different crops and different types of policies. There’s always opportunities to be able to improve on those in something that just doesn’t work as well as it should. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t fix them, but we’ve got to hear about them first. Getting out helps with that.

That’s kind of normal, I’d say. A third more or less I would say we’re over some standup [inaudible] program. MFP’s probably kept us back a little bit when we were putting the Market Facilitation Program together. It kept me off the road a little bit more because we’re standing that up and standing up some of the farm bill pieces. Then obviously I think my last travel was a month or six weeks ago to New Jersey. Got over to some farms. There’s a reason it’s called the Garden State. There’s some great agriculture over there besides suburbs of New York City. There’s some great ag over there. I’m looking forward to getting back out to the country as soon as I can work again.

Mike:   When you go out and visit the country and some of your offices, do you typically travel with colleagues or do you go on your own and then meet up with people? How does it typically work?

Bill:   You know, it varies. So typically, I’ll have one of our younger guys here that kind of help us on the policy side that’ll travel and have done all of the arranging. We will try and put as many farm visits and office visits we can in a day. I’m sure it’s even more of a challenge than I can imagine in trying to get a schedule all together. They will work with our folks on the ground in those areas. Our local state executive directors or their staff or county executive directors and their staff and the same on the NRCS side. That’s the FSA folks. Same on the NRCS side to set up farm visits, get to county offices. We’re trying to get going fairly good time in the morning and get as much done and just get done and time to go to bed at night because you’re not going to be gone a lot. If you can get an extra farm visit in or an extra county office visit in it’s important. So typically, one of those folks and then several other folks from an area. So a chance to be able to hop in a car of our local staff there whether Risk Management Agency, NRCS, or FSA and ride and have them tell us what are the issues in your country? What are the things? What are you hearing about? Are there things about what we could do administratively that would be better? It’s just a good chance to be able to do that. I would say an average one of those days we’ll try and get to, if we can, a state office, maybe a couple county offices, and two to four farms if we can during that. Then try and move across the state as we’re doing it so we can get to another state the next day if we can. So, I push my guys kind of hard to see as much ground as we can when we go out.

Mike:   Yeah. So, you travel, it sounds like, a lot like we do when we go out and meet customers where if you’re out three nights, it’s three different hotel rooms.

Bill:   Yes, yes. Generally, so because you’re trying to cover some ground when you’re out. You feel like you’re not giving every place it’s full due. You’d like to be able to stay longer and understand a little bit more, but you also have a lot of other places that you need to get to. So when you’re out, you know you can come back and let’s cover another part of the state when we come back. Let’s get a little deeper into this issue when we come some place else. Let’s cover some ground when we’re out because if I dedicate a whole week to one state, I’m not going to get to a lot of other states.

Mike:   Yeah. Well, of that mix, people ask me sometimes how do I like my job. I say well, I love about 80% of it. 10% don’t like and then 10% of it I hate. So what mix would you give me on that front? What do you really love about it?

Bill:   Well, you know, I’m one of those that can see…I told you I liked hauling manure when I was home Mike. It was a great job. Of course, I was not pitching it with a fork, I was using a skid loader. So that was part of it. To figure out how many loads you can get out and how good you can get it spread and how much ground you can get covered. There’s a lot of ways to enjoy even the jobs that may not hold a lot of satisfaction themselves. So I love to learn. I love to even learn about how we can do a better job of managing. Certainly, personnel issues that get tough can be more of a challenge and less enjoyable, but they’re so important to get right. We have a lot of people that can help us through those and make sure they’re right. It’s a real challenge when you come across issues that you’re not able to fix, and frankly there are those. We don’t have authorities. We don’t have dollars. You’ve got a producer. Right now we’re getting more than our share of those right now where you’ve got producers that are hurting. It was not something they brought on themselves at all. They’re doing everything right. We just don’t have resources to do everything for them to be able to help. So those are frustrating, but it still is very enjoyable to help where we can. It’s so enjoyable to learn. Sometimes I hate having to leave too early when we’re at a farm, but I’ve got someplace else I’m interested in going. So, we have those conversations.

So, for the most part I just really enjoy my job. We’ve got great people at USDA. An awful lot of these folks have their roots at a farm. Many of them worked in a county office before. They know what it’s like to serve customers and they care about it. Actually, one of those things is we went out early on. I remember a conversation we had during the shutdown where we weren’t paying our employees because we didn’t have dollars to be able to do it. We were able to bring some of our employees back. We couldn’t pay them during that time, but because we had some work that we could do. In our employees, I expected to hear the hardship they were going through. All they could talk about was our farmers. Our farmers need this. Our farmers need us to be able to help get them a new loan. Farmers need us to sign off on two party checks. We need this to be able to happen. After a while from hearing that from so many places we started a hashtag Our Farmers. We used that on our NRCS, FSA, and RMA Twitter feeds and others just because our folks care about our farmers that way. That it is something that they feel connected to and a part of. Those are the kinds of folks that I get to work with here at USDA that are great to be around.

Of course, our farmers are great to be around. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a real challenge when they’re going through really challenging times. Whether it’s fires or drought or the current kind of challenges that folks are going through, they feel a lot of pressure. I understand it’s the pressure. That doesn’t mean it’s always a pleasant conversation. Still, they’re resilient and they’re tough. It’s amazing how many tough conversations end with them saying we’ll find a way to get through this. I remember what my grandpa told me about his tough time. Our operation may be different, but we’ll find a way. This too will pass as my grandpa used to say. This too will pass. We’ll get to the other side.

Mike:   Yeah, that is good advice. We need to keep that in mind as we go through this.

Bill:   As we need it more than other times, we need it right now. That’s right.

Mike:   That’s right. That’s good. Well, so that’s sort of a normal sort of workflow that you talked about. You mentioned that your last trip was a month or six weeks ago. So let’s talk about the last six weeks. I mean what has gone on? How has that changed your work life?

Bill:   You know it’s been crazy, as it has for everybody out there. Absolutely everybody. For us, once it started really ramping up—Once COVID really started ramping up we had to start to figure out how in the world are we going to make sure we’re keeping our staff safe, our customers safe. We have a service-oriented business where everything happens at the counter, person to person. Obviously, there’s phone calls and emails and other kinds of things, but it’s mostly counter traffic. It took us a little while to figure out that it made sense for both our customers and our employees to get to the place where we actually have our offices not open to in-person contact but we do everything by phone. We had to figure out how to send employees home and have all of the equipment that they needed to be able to do that. So we have folks teleworking now. Many of the folks—especially in NRCS and some of our employees at FSA and in our state offices, all of RMA really had laptops and had ways to connect remotely. We had some folks that didn’t. So we had to actually go out and find laptops. We found some stuff that was off warranty in one agency and get it to another agency. Folks all across the country to be able to do that and find work that can work remotely because they’re used to working at the office, maybe with a desktop, and the files nearby. Now they’re going to be taking phone calls at home and doing some of the program entry from home, how do we make sure to protect that information, and we get some work done. We still make [inaudible] and we still get some of the things done that need to get done. So that’s taken a lot of effort.

As well as then eventually, probably two or three weeks ago, we got to the place where they said we need to make sure to not have everybody in the office building that we have here in Washington DC. We’d already sent folks home that could telework. Some of us were still going in because we just had so much going on. We needed to be there together. Two or three weeks ago the conversation was I think we can all take our laptops home and figure out Zoom and all of the other methods to be in touch in teams and other things. We’ve got to be separate because we have to practice what we’re preaching with everybody else. Now us we’re going meetings really from 7:00 or 7:30 to 6:00 at night but it’s by computer. I’m in this one-bedroom apartment in Alexandria on a little kitchen dining room table. It’s only got one room besides the bedroom. So, I guess it could be called a living room table for that matter, but a little table. Everything’s through the computer from meetings to emails to all the establishment of our COVID’s Food Assistance Program. All those pieces are taking a place through our computers and through conference calls and other kinds of things. All the folks that we’re meeting with here around these pieces are in their homes here. We sent some of our administrators home. So our administrator of FSA and RMA and our chief of NRCS are all farmers. They’re all back on their farms and operating out of their offices on their farms. Actually, I did catch one yesterday in a semi tending his son planting corn too, but he could be on a conference call with us. So, he could get two things done at once there, but the rest of us are jealous of him being outside. Really operating remotely and frankly it’s working. You can get a lot done that way. You can jump from one meeting to another without having to walk across a building when you can do it online.

Mike:   Well that’s good to hear. We initially had our IT department ask is everybody covered with laptops because maybe you ran into this. There was a little run on laptops. I don’t know if it’s still an issue or not, but all of sudden there weren’t—Like CBW they had run out of laptops.

Bill:   We have some folks that don’t have internet at home and needed a card to be able to get on the internet service. We found out that there’s been a run on that too as well. We have some ways for folks to be able to get some internet out of home or use their home system, but we’ve got a lot of folks that are headed home across those 20,000 plus folks that we’re trying to make sure that they have all that they need to be able to be on and have full access too. So challenges, that’s right Mike.

Mike:   Yeah, definitely. You’ve probably logged a few hundred thousand miles I would suspect in your role at USDA. What would you say is one of our highlight moments? One of your moments where you look back and say, “Man, that was really awesome. Or that was a lot of fun. We made a huge impact. We’re helping a lot of farmers.” Is there anything that comes to mind when you look back thus far over the last couple of years?

Bill:   The challenge is probably picking them. Certainly, I think our Market Facilitation Programs. The first one was $8.5 billion worth of direct support. The next one was $14.5 billion of support to producers for a total of $23 billion between those two. Those were created out of scratch. We had to figure out how to make appropriate payments. They were not perfect by any means. We could put them together in a way that they were legally defensible in the way that they were created. They could respond as well as they could to the farmers in need. It could be fairly quick at the door. We had to give them to our staff to implement without any more staff out there and on top of everything that they were doing. The farmers actually generally could figure out even before they came into the office what it was going to be worth for them. So we said it’s this many dollars an acre or this many cents per bushel. It depended on whether they planted or not in one of those programs and how we constructed it. Really important.

Obviously, we’re in the middle of one right now in trying to figure out something that will impact more producers than those two did because we’re looking across all of agriculture to figure out that COVID impact. So we’re trying to figure out especially with crop livestock producers in addition to our normal customers. Last time normal customers was expanded it included some fruits and some nuts and some livestock, but this one will be much broader than that even. We’re a ways away from being able to talk about success and get dollars out the door but we’re going to get there. I would say I’m absolutely convinced because of what I saw on the way that Market Facilitation Program was stood up in a completely new and different way. The IT all has to be developed. All the rules around it and you have to think of all of the circumstances that folks find themselves in.  We’re going to have even more this time around, but we’ll get there.

I would say some enjoyable pieces too Mike came when you’re out travelling, and you talk to somebody who felt an impact. A producer that he was a rancher in Texas, a young man who had had a wildfire go through and take out most of his fences and pretty much all of his grass except some grass around his house that was saved very close to his house. Not enough to keep any cows on but to keep the house from burning down. He said, “I would not have got back up on my feet except for the help I got from NRCS.” The way this program worked and FSA. Be able to talk to folks and be getting farmer’s loans. Actually, often their parents are more emotional than the kids are but being able to talk about how satisfying it is to be able to get somebody back that just would not have been able to get a loan in town and wouldn’t have been considered a great risk by a lot of folks. Didn’t have experience to show, but because we have some programs that can address beginning farmers—About half of our loans actually are made to beginning farmers at FSA. Then they’re able to get some support. Certainly, I heard it around Market Facilitation where folks said sometimes those program payments were enough to give them the financial backing to be able to get another farm loan operating out for the next year. It’s tough to be in that kind of situation where they need that. We need to get back to a situation where we’re trading again, and markets are working, and they can get success without any federal dollars. The federal government ought to be there when that’s needed. So those are very rewarding when you hear those kinds of things about the stuff that our programs are doing.

Mike:   Well, that’s great to hear, encouraging to hear. It’s interesting what you just mentioned about half of your loans are to beginning farmers. How many of those do you typically issue in a year or have you issued in the last couple of years?

Bill:   So I know the new loans year. I’m not going to know the number of loans. We probably could back into it with an estimate. Our new loans last we gave $5.7 billion of direct loans to producers. Not our guaranteed loans but direct loans. Both for ownership and for operating. $2.7 billion of that were for beginning farmers. Since our loans are a little bit smaller, over half of the producers—that’s a little less than half of all of the loans—but over half of the folks receiving a loan were beginning farmers. I don’t know how many that is, but we both know. Half the farmers out there are not beginning farmers. For us, the definition of beginning farmer is in the first 10 years of operating a farm and filing a schedule F. So, we know that’s—I don’t know what it is. It’s 10% of the folks out there. Those folks are finding us often graduate to banks and other places. Maybe we’ll help a bank with a guaranteed loan after that, but often those early loans to buy some cows or buy some land is a beginning farmer loan. Then maybe that first operating note as well as a beginning farmer loan through Farm Service Agency. So, it’s really found a niche to be able to help and just get people started. We had very few that don’t end up paying that loan off. It’s amazing how few defaults that we have because they intend to farm. They want to pay that off. They want to graduate. They want to grow that farm. We’re very blessed to be able to have folks well before us figure out how to put those together and a great staff around the country out of our FSA offices to get those loans out.

Mike:   Well that’s fantastic to hear. I’m always encouraged to hear younger growers risking it all to start it up. To either keep it going or start something new.

Bill:   We need more. We know that we need more out there that are. Frankly, times like these in the last handful of years has been tough on that generation of new farmers. So we’re going to need everything. They’re not at huge advantages here. There’s just access to capital through that. We’re probably going to have to find ways over time to find some additional advantages because it’s tough to start, but at least there’s something here that helps get some folks started.

Mike:    Yeah. Well that’s great. I appreciate all the work that you do, and your team does. Really appreciate how you’re trying to help these growers survive and thrive. Thriving will come again. Yes.

Bill:   It will. It will Mike.

Mike:   Yeah, that’s right. Well, since we’re both kind of missing the country here, I’ve kind of been binge-watching a YouTube broadcast. I thought I’d ask if you watch it at all. Do you ever watch the Millennial Farmer?

Bill:   You know, I don’t know that I do. I listen to a gob of ag podcasts. I actually was just looking at my list of ag podcasts. I have north of 75 that are on my two phones that I get to from international from Farming Today of BBC in New Zealand and Australia and other things, western Canada. Obviously, a lot of U.S. stuff. I have not done that. I will mark that down and look for that.

Mike:   Yeah. I recommend you do it. Last night he broadcast—His first day planting was yesterday.

Bill:   Oh wonderful.

Mike:   His name is Zach Johnson. He lives in west central Minnesota out by Morris, Minnesota. Glenwood and that area. He’s really good at it. It’s really kind of a fun watch. Anyways if you need a dose of reality again, I recommend that.

Bill:   Perfect. I do. I mainly miss it a lot when I see pictures. Actually, I think my mom shot me a picture yesterday of my brother-in-law planting soybeans in northern Iowa. I enjoy seeing everyone of those pictures even though I wish I was out there in them. So that would be fun. I look forward to looking that up.

Mike: Well, I certainly appreciate your time being our guest here today. We had never met other than the fact that we’re looking at screens of each other right. Appreciate your willingness to spend some time with me today. I’m sure our listening audience will appreciate it too when they listen to this. I wish you a safe and healthy time during the duration of this COVID-19 pandemic. As everybody says, we’ll get through it.

Bill:   We will. We absolutely will. Thank you, Mike. Thanks for reaching out. Thank you for sharing the stories that you do. Certainly, everybody that’s listening out there that’s a farmer. I hope there’s some non-farmers listening that get the sense of our great farming community, but certainly wish the best for all of those that are agriculturalists. You absolutely are essential. I think no one has realized now like they have the last three weeks of how essential our folks are in agriculture. Certainly, it’s those directly farming. We now realize how essential everybody that we work with as farmers are too from workers in meat processing plants to our folks that are providing parts to everything else out there. So we have a great agriculture system. It works almost perfectly and it’s easy to take it for granted when it’s working well and in normal times. Now we really appreciate it when it’s not those normal times. So appreciate it Mike. Thank you. Thanks for reaching out.

Mike:   Oh, it’s been all my pleasure. Blessings to you Bill. Thanks again for your service. Alright, bye now.