Farmers National Bank takes a personal approach to financing farmers’ dreams

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Farmers National Bank takes a unique approach to ag lending, prioritizing farmers and the unique needs of their farms. (Sara Welch photo)

SALEM, Ohio — Walking through the dairy farm he designed, Paul Keener explains the business plan that has allowed Rosedale Farms LLC to grow from 200 cows at one location to around 1,600 milking cows split between two farms. Milking takes place nearly around the clock as more than 900 cows at the first location in Jeromsville, Ohio are shuffled in and out of the milking parlor over 23 hours a day to take their turn during one of the 7.5-hour shifts. Ten miles away, just south of Ashland, Keener’s second herd of over 600 cows follows a similar cycle, habitually, entering the milking parlor, tuning into a stall and waiting for the familiar process to begin.

“It’s what I loved to do growing up and so I made it a reality,” Kenner said while overseeing operations and periodically commenting on the efficiency of his vision.

Both Keener’s grandfather and father operated small dairies in West Salem, Ohio during his youth, and Keener grew up showing cattle and working on farms before attending Ohio State University to pursue an ag business and applied economics degree. His appreciation for that upbringing is still evident in his herd, in the few Brown Swiss cows that stand out among his Holsteins.

When Keener purchased Rosedale Farms in 2012, he set it up to be a 700-cow dairy, starting with 200 cows, around 150 acres and a plan to add on every two to three years. From the beginning, everything was set up to keep expanding. Keener was intentional in everything from the farm’s layout to the methodical milking process his herd managers follow.

“I worked with Tom Stocksdale from the beginning with Farmers National and bought … like 150 acres right here. So we got started with that and 200 cows. And then once I built some equity and paid the cows down, then, I’d make another jump and we’d add on. I kinda set everything up from the beginning so we can just keep expanding. I tried to lay the farm out correctly so we wouldn’t box ourselves in,” Keener said.

Incidentally, Keener’s first location is permitted for 1,000 cows today, and the opportunities for growth are limited due to the geography and the farm layout. In order to make another big jump, Keener would have to change the farm’s major infrastructure. So a couple of years ago, Keener found himself eyeing a second farm, just a 10-to-12-minute drive from his first.

After convincing the owner to sell instead of rent, Keener again contacted Stocksdale, senior vice president and agricultural lending manager of commercial lending at Farmers National Bank, and they got the deal done.

“Some days it isn’t the fastest but we always get it done,” Keener said.

Keener went with Stocksdale and Farmers National from the beginning because Stocksdale is known for working with dairies in the area and he understands the dairy business. His story and experience are not unlike others in the area.

Cows try to stay cool
Cows try to stay cool at Rosedale Farms LLC on June 5. (Sara Welch photo)

Mengel Dairy Farms

William and Jennifer Mengel started a dairy in Pennsylvania in 2016, while they both maintained full-time jobs off the farm. However, they were drawn back to Ohio where William grew up in 2018 when one of the farms they currently own came up for sale.

With help from Farmers National Bank, the Mengels purchased the farm and moved to Big Prairie, Ohio. Since then, they have expanded their operation from 50 milking cows to over 600, split between two locations.

“They were willing to work with us with a less amount of leverage than other banks would,” Mengel said.

The Mengels purchased the second farm about three years ago. Today, Ripley Dairy — just down the road from Mengel Dairy Farms — houses 150 of their 600 milking cows.

“They were willing to loan us the money to buy cows to fill that place up without any hesitation,” Mengel said.

Mengel believes that Farmers National Bank is committed to creating pathways for young and beginning farmers — a quality that’s important to Mengel who has four sons, Brady, Mason, Connor and Landon, who he might like to pass the farm down to one day.

“Farmers National is recognizing the lack of younger generations coming back to farms or trying to get started and realize there is a continued need for younger generations to be involved and that is all part of the reason they are willing to accept situations with less leverage than most other lenders,” Mengel said.

A farmers-first approach

paul keener
Since 2012, Paul Keener has expanded Rosedale Farms LLC from 200 cows at one location to around 1,600 milking cows split between two farms. (Sara Welch photo)

When Justin Troyer was promoted to vice president and commercial banking team leader of Farmers National Bank’s western market last year he already knew the importance of understanding the small communities he serves. But he wanted to put an even bigger focus on the customer service aspect of banking with Farmers National and make sure his lenders are doing more than talking to customers over the phone. The customer service that Troyer envisioned, and the kind of service his team offers, means visiting farmers, meeting customers face-to-face and formulating a plan that’s tailored to each farm’s individual needs.

“My biggest goal was to make sure from day one (that) we know who we’re working with, they know who we are, they have that face-to-face interaction. Because the better we assist that business or that farm, we’re not only helping that individual, but we’re helping their family, the local community. That’s my main objective to always make sure we’re offering the top-notch service,” Troyer said.

Like many on his staff, Troyer’s agricultural background was rooted on a farm long before he found himself in ag lending. He grew up next door to his grandparents’ dairy farm, helping with chores and field work throughout his childhood.

In addition to Troyer’s background, his team also includes a former grain farmer, a former dairy farmer and an individual who worked with horses and pigs before working at the bank.

“We can kind of cover a wide range of the industries just from the experience they have and it’s not just the lenders. We have certain underwriters that they basically just look at our ag loans. They have experience with farming. They know how it works. They know the numbers behind it,” Troyer said.

Incidentally, Farmers National Bank’s specialized approach and working formula is one of the reasons they recently increased their foothold in Pennsylvania with the acquisition of Emclaire Financial Corp. in January. The acquisition expanded their reach to 62 total branches, including branches in 10 Ohio counties and 10 Pennsylvania counties.

The recent merger falls in line with both the bank’s overall objective to serve small to mid-sized communities that are farming and small business-oriented, and it increases the bank’s asset size, allowing them to remain aggressive, offer more services and serve a wide range of customers.

“We have a saying ‘fiercely local, fiercely loyal’ because we want to keep that small-town-community feel, but as a bank this size, we can offer treasury management programs, we can offer wealth management, we have our own insurance company, we have our own trust department. So pretty much if a farmer has a need of any kind, we have a division that can assist them with that,” Troyer said.

Counting cows

A curious calf
A curious calf greets a visitor at Rosedale Farms LLc on June 5. (Sara Welch)

In both the Mengels’ and Keener’s cases, Farmers National Bank has facilitated continued growth. In Keener’s case, he’s not sure he’s done.

His second dairy has the potential to milk up to 1,800 cows with the way it’s set up if he adds more barns and infrastructure. Time and better milk prices will determine how quickly those dreams are realized, but he has thoughts of maybe one day passing his farm down to his children, Jack, Henry, Emberly and a daughter he and his fiance Shyann are expecting in August.

“When the timing feels right, we’ll make another jump and keep going,” he said.

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