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Recently, several FCS Financial offices were filled with young customers looking for networking, information and resources. The inaugural FCS Financial Connect meeting brought them together and, if one meeting sets the pace, future meetings will link them to each other as they build their individual operations.

Connect is a new program developed by FCS Financial as part of our commitment to young and beginning farmers because funding is just one piece of starting a successful operation. Through four key areas of credit standards, cooperative representation, communication and knowledge sharing, Connect helps participants realize their full potential to find success.

FCS Financial ConnectA series of five meetings over an 18 month period comprise the knowledge sharing piece. Those involved are learning about FCS Financial as lender, goal setting, credit reporting, business communication, advocacy, risk mitigation, record keeping and business plan development.

“The key is putting the right people around you and finding the information you need,” said Scott Gardner, FCS Financial Vice President of Marketing & Sales, as he welcomed the group to the first meeting which focused on FCS Financial’s role and goal setting for an ag operation.

As a lender, FCS Financial has been assisting rural Missourians for nearly 100 years. “The Farm Credit System began in 1916,” said Jeff Houts, FCS Financial Executive Vice President of Operations. “We now have 76 associations (in the U.S.), but it didn’t start out that way. Much like the ag industry has consolidated so has the Farm Credit System to serve its members.

“The System has $216 billion in loans and four banks. FCS Financial is a member of the AgriBank District. Like you, we are a borrower of funds from our district bank, AgriBank, through an established line of credit.”

Where your lender receives funds is important, especially when you do business with FCS Financial because of its cooperative structure. “FCS Financial is owned by our member borrowers. All of you,” said Houts. “You are the owners, and we hope you take time to understand the System, the Association and take an active interest in how it is operated.”

[rich-callout title='"Good discussion on some important challenges and factors the younger generation is facing." -Connect participant'][/rich-callout]The landscape continues to change. According to the 2012 ag census numbers, the average age of farmers has increased by more than 16 percent since 1982. “At some point there will have to be a substantial shifting of control,” said Houts. "It appears to be a bright future for young operators. You need to consider how you will position yourself to capture that opportunity.”

Attitude reflects in all you do and can help or hurt when opportunity knocks. “I’m a believer that any successful venture in life starts with the right attitude,” said Kevin Gabbert, FCS Financial Vice President of Commercial Farmers. “That and passion is often what carries you through.”

Producers should create a business plan to identify their competitive advantage, define intermediate and long-term goals and elevate performance. “Find a format that works for you and build your plan based on a three to five year forecast, but review it annually,” said Gabbert. This process keeps your plan and goals current and ensures all involved parties are working toward the same objective.

In addition to a well-rounded business plan, producers need to consider other resources. “Seek experts to help you,” said Gabbert. “It’s reality that you can’t be an expert in everything. It is critical to build a team.”

Jeff Houts speaks to Connect participants. FCS Financial's Jeff Houts shares information about the cooperative with Connect participants at the first of a five-series program.

Experts in tax laws, risk management, marketing, estate planning and financial and production management help you navigate options.

“If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?” asked Kevin Moore, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at University of Missouri.

"Goal setting is going to be one of the more challenging pieces of writing the business plan," said Moore. “It takes some work and time. It really needs to involve everybody for discussion and compromise. You find out what is important to each person and this allows you to work on the business as a whole. It is about working on the business rather than in the business.”

Goals not only help you understand the business and how to be successful, they prepare those involved for the eventual transition of the farm. Moore suggests writing your goals down because they will change. Then everybody should revisit them each year at the same time.

[rich-callout title='"Enjoyed being able to go to a meeting with my peers." - Connect participant'][/rich-callout]Strategic planning and goal setting are only the beginning. “You have to get commitment,” said Moore. “Everybody has to agree to be obligated and act towards reaching the goal.

"There will be conflicts. There will be conflicts within you and there will be conflicting goals between those in the business. Discuss those. Take time to talk about the conflicts and highlight the similarities. Through the process commitment to farm and family comes out; a stronger operation evolves.”

Some may ask what the goal is of the Connect five meeting series. It is to build stronger rural communities and commitment to agriculture. Participants will walk away with a business plan, communication tips, a network of peers, and resources to help them meet future challenges as young producers.

If you are interested in learning more about Connect, contact your loan officer.
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