Farmer

With the fall harvest season fast approaching, the CalCPA Education Foundation is pleased to host the 2016 Farmers Tax and Accounting Conference on September 21st at the DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center, just across the street from the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center (and also online via webcast.) That’s just one day before the official start of fall on the autumnal equinox, the day the Sun crosses the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator, from north to south–just one of two days each year that the plane of the Earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun, or in more scientific parlance, when the solar terminator (the “edge” between night and day) is perpendicular to the equator, and both the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated.

In the spirit of the equinox’s evenly balanced global illumination, CalCPA Education Foundation is bringing together a bumper crop of expert speakers and panelists to address this year’s most important regulatory, financial, economic, valuation and real estate issues facing your clients in farming and to present insights and advice to help you stay ahead of trends and changes in the agricultural industry. The Farmers Tax and Accounting Conference is designed for CPAs, CMAs and other financial professionals and attorneys working directly in farming and agribusiness. California is the leading producer of fruits, vegetables, wine and nuts in the United States, and dairy products contribute the largest single share of farm income in the state–as a consequence, your knowledge and experience serving the agricultural community can make a big difference in the business affairs of farmers. Among this year’s conference’s expert speakers is veteran speaker and long-time agricultural banking professional, Curt Covington, who will be presenting at 12:50 PM on the topic of “Tales from a Gray-Haired Ag Banker.”

Curt is Farmer Mac’s senior vice president of agricultural finance, where he’s responsible for the company’s expansive Ag real estate portfolio, as well as its credit administration and underwriting functions. Curt’s passion for rural America developed at a young age on his family’s grape and tree nut farm, and developed into a career helping farmers and families like his own. Over the past three decades, Curt has established himself as a prominent figure in American Ag lending, and most recently served as the Managing Director of the Ag and Rural Banking Division at Bank of the West. He has also held various management roles within the Farm Credit System and at Rabobank. Curt is respected throughout the agricultural lending industry for his leadership and mentorship.

When he isn’t traveling the country sharing his knowledge with the financial and agricultural communities at large, Curt also serves as Chairman of the RMA Agricultural Lending Committee; the Co-Chair of The Agricultural Lending Institute, a joint venture with California State University, Fresno; and the Lead Instructor for the Agricultural Lending Program with the Federal Financial Institutions Examinations Council. Hot Topics caught up with Curt during his most recent cross-country journey, making contact with him as he was departing Chicago, and conducting an email Q&A before he headed out to the Pacific Northwest to his next destination, Seattle.

Curt told us about his youth growing up in in Selma, California–”raisin capital of the world”–where his family farmed 200 acres of walnuts and grapes. His father had two careers, one as a country doctor and the other as a “mostly full-time” farmer; after he passed away at an early age, the family farm was left Curt’s mother and six siblings. As he recounted: “No one in the family, other than me, was necessarily interested in a career in agriculture. I took to the business of farming pretty quickly because I loved being outdoors. And, while I wasn’t the brightest kid in the world, I loved to tinker with equipment and I loved learning things from our farmhand.” Among his many fond memories, Curt noted “the one I’ll always remember is learning from my father how to sharpen a shovel. That’s right, sharpen a shovel (and pruning shears come to think of it). Up to that point in my life, it never occurred to me that you had to sharpen anything!” Curt remembers how his parents would host an annual Christmas party at the house: “That was the place to be. Everyone was invited and at the end of the evening the sheriff would escort the party-goers home.”

 

Growing up farming shaped Curt’s values and interests, and helped to develop his deep and lifelong passion for rural life. “It goes without saying I learned the value of hard work. But probably the most important value I still carry with me today is ‘taking care of what takes care of you.’ In today’s burn-and-churn, throw-away-society, I find great satisfaction in little things like keeping my 16 year-old Chevy pickup in tip-top shape for my drive into Washington, D.C., each day. I believe in paying off one thing before you buy another. I learned the importance of being a good steward of the land.” Curt recalls that “one of the most respected men in town was the local bank manager. Every farmer knew him and every farmer needed him. He was respected not just for what he did, but for his love of his farm customers. My mother eventually sold the farm about the time I went off to college, but every summer I found work on a farm somewhere. I kind of knew towards the end of college there was no way I was going to buy a farm anytime soon, so I set out to do what I thought was the next best thing–becoming a farm lender.”

Curt described for us his journey from farming to farm lending, and how, “for about a year after college, I went to work for a large corporate farming company in their accounting department. While I enjoyed the work, it just seemed as though I was detached from the real business of farming. My father and mother were good friends with an iconic leader in the world of Westside Farming (and still is today). My mother called me one day and said their good friend sat on the board of an agricultural community bank in Fresno and that they were looking for a junior level Ag loan officer. I interviewed for the job with the bank president a few days later. I’m pretty sure I got the job because of who my mom knew not what I knew. I remember telling the bank president I knew nothing about agricultural lending but I would work hard and stay late to learn. As it turns out I got the job not knowing I beat out a college (and much smarter) friend of mine. I learned later that the reason he didn’t get the job was because he told the president that he was told by one of his college professors that his degree in Ag Finance was worth 10 years of on-the-job experience. Life lesson number one: Be/stay humble. Try not to say stupid things that some college professor has put in your head!”

Curt pointed out the central importance of farming to rural America’s economy. As he described: “It is said that nine out of every 10 jobs in rural America are tied to the farm one way or another. I’m not sure what that 10th job is, but I’ll bet it too is tied to farming. Drive through any small farm community and make sure you are at the coffee shop real early in the morning. It’s where you catch up on the business (all the business) of the day.” But facing farmers today, however, are many challenges. Most challenging, he finds, “without question, is the regulatory burden and social/consumer activism. I think if the state of California and the federal government had their way, they’d regulate farming out of business. On top of that there are many (too many) activist groups that have convinced the American consumer and the government that farmers are poor stewards of their asset. The United States has the safest food supply in the world, and it’s not by accident. All of our export partners know it, appreciate it and continue to buy American. But gullible urban dwellers have been blogged into believing Farm-to-Fork is a sustainable model for feeding this country and the world. And one other thing, is there someone out there that can explain what the phrase ‘sustainable farming’ even means?”

Being based in the nation’s capital, Curt has a front-row seat to the world of federal farming regulation and legislation. And while he loves “living near and working in Washington,” he says i’s “unlikely I would retire there. Washington is a very transient town, full of government contractors working a two-year stint and then moving on. Drivers make very good use of their car horns and struggle to drive the speed limit. Farm and rural America issues are really not on the majority of peoples’ radar in Washington unless you work for Farmer Mac or the USDA. Rewriting the Farm Bill every four years is when agriculture is front and center because it gives rural legislators the opportunity to call a hearing and urban legislators the opportunity to redirect more of the agriculture budget towards the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program).”

At this year’s Farmers Tax and Accounting Conference, Curt will “spend a few minutes talking about conditions on the farm and what the USDA has to say about the more difficult times ahead–particularly in the grain and dairy sectors. Then I’ll share what I’ve learned over the past 38+ years about how the best farmers manage their businesses and what makes them thrive during difficult times. It will be fun, fast and furious!” This is Curt’s seventh year speaking at CalCPA’s Farmers Tax and Accounting Conference. During this time, he’s “covered the condition of the farm economy mostly” and “the regulatory strangle-hold on banks and how that impacts the average customer.”