More Women Ag Lenders = More Loans for Women Farmers?

A discouraging number of female farmers over the years have told us they were discriminated against by lenders – both government and commercial – because they were women. “I did my research and created a solid business plan a half inch thick for my grass-fed beef business,” one beginning farmer from Iowa told us. “When I took it to the local banker, he told me to come back with my husband.”

So it’s encouraging to hear from two commercial ag lenders, who happen to be women, and whose employer has invested in beginning women farmers by funding WFAN’s Harvesting Our Potential program.

Hills Bank and Trust Company operates 18 locations in eastern Iowa. Janelle Johnson and Sarah Gould serve as agricultural lenders -- the only two women on a team of 10.

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Sarah is first vice president of commercial banking. She has worked for Hills Bank and Trust for 8 years, currently at the Hills (IA) location, and says her job entails equal parts visiting with customers and crunching numbers. Janelle, a commercial banking officer, started work at Hills Bank about two years ago, starting in Iowa City and then making a move to the new branch in Washington (IA) to be closer to where she grew up.

Both say they are committed to helping all beginning farmers get started, including women. They have made a point of learning about beginning farmer loan programs available from the Farm Service Agency (federal) and Iowa Finance Authority (state).

Janelle Erwin Officer Photo

Janelle sees her job as serving as a resource for financial questions, and also proposing new ideas on how to invest, save, and protect assets. “Overall, supporting my customers means showing a sincere interest in helping them, their family, and their business succeed while also providing hassle free banking,” she says.

Both women say the most rewarding aspect of their jobs is getting to know farmers in their area, learning their financing needs, and finding strategies and products to help them reach their goals.

Sarah says, “Ag lenders are a great resource, so don’t be afraid to visit with them and ask questions even if you aren’t to the point where you’re requesting financing yet. They can discuss with you loan programs and requirements, so you know what to expect when you do need a loan.”

If you’re thinking about starting a farm business, Janelle and Sarah say it’s never to soon to visit with your lenders. Set up an appointment, and draw up a list of questions. If you are able to come prepared with a business plan and cash flow projection, that’s even better – and if you need help preparing those documents, your lender should have advice and even templates to help you.

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A good lender is more than a business contact, Janelle concludes. “Customers are more than just someone you help at the bank. They become friends, you see them at community events, you see them on the weekends, you discuss how their operation is doing, you see them during important times in their families’ lives. It is fulfilling to know that you have helped them through the good times and the bad.”

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More info

  • BeginningFarmers.org has a good business planning resource page at this link.
  • For more information on ag credit in general, including implications of the credit crunch, check out these articles from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition:

http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/release-farm-groups-and-farm-lenders-appeal-for-assistance-during-credit-crunch/

http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-credit-system-100-years-later/

http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/2015-fsa-loan-data/