Farm Credit Services of America operates 48 offices in the region and currently these offices are operated with a small staff. Many employees work from home. Executive vice president of business development Ken Keegan says it has allowed them to limit walk-in traffic to protect their customers and employees. Making the switch during the renewal season is a challenge, he says, but they’ve made a smooth transition to doing most of the business electronically.
“We have digital portals for working with people digitally. We obviously have phones, faxes and text messages to communicate with producers, ”he says.
Payments are also made by producers electronically, and Keegan says nearly 70% of their customers were already using remote filing before COVID-19. All offices also have payment deposit boxes where farmers and ranchers can physically deposit checks.
Keegan says they’re also using creative methods of doing business during the renewal season.
“Producers come in with physical documents that we mailed to them in our US Postal Service, and they drop them off in secure boxes, and we collect them using digital signatures for executive digital signatures when we can.” , did he declare. said.
He admits that they have customers who face Internet problems or are limited by broadband services in the rural area where they live.
“In these cases we work with them over the phone, we also have limited interaction with them where we can exchange information and act on loan applications,” says Keegan.
The First Dakota National Bank also made the transition quickly to serve its customers on a timely basis. Nate Franzen is president of the agri-food division of First Dakota and he says business has not fallen despite COVID-19. He says they have closed their lobbies but opened drive-thru at their branches as usual, while many of their employees are working from home offices.
“We can do a lot of work and a lot of money there and a lot of renewed lines of operations and a lot of helping our customers by leveraging the technology,” he says. They too take out loans with electronic signatures to keep farmers and ranchers in business.
Franzen says where they have to do in-person meetings due to lack of technology, they are very careful and conscientious and follow social distancing.
“The flow of money is an essential part of agriculture and business and we want this to continue even in light of this unique environment,” he said.
First Dakota also had only a few hours to prepare to process claims and help spread the stimulus dollars that were part of the $ 2,000 billion CARES bill passed by Congress. This includes the Small Business Administration loans that will be provided to farmers and rural businesses.
“As of April 3, small businesses employ less than 500 people. So with regard to agriculture, it was necessary that companies, including production, have a payroll, employees and be able to document their payroll and that is what defines the amount of the loan, ”explains Franzen.
He says these companies will be monitored for eight weeks, and if they use the dollars appropriately and continue to keep employees on the payroll, there is a forgiveness phase. As of April 10, there was a second phase of apps designed for freelancers and independent contractors. They are still waiting for advice on this, but parts of agriculture will also be eligible for this program.
Franzen says they also don’t have details of the $ 24.5 billion in direct aid that will go to farmers, but he says they expect this to be treated as market facilitation program payments. previously performed. He says there have been historic and considerable losses in agriculture, especially in the livestock, dairy and corn sectors. He says this payment will make a difference to those operations and hopefully keep them going until the pandemic subsides and normal demand returns to the market.