The other side

Published 8:23 am Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Farm-City Committee didn’t have to twist Jeff Kervin’s arm or Kevin Ward’s to get them to agree to participate in the 2011 Pike County Chamber of Commerce’s Farm-City Swap.

“Kevin and I just agreed to split the $20,000 prize money for being selected,” Kervin said laughing.

Kervin and Ward were eager to participate in the annual Farm-City Swap because each has a sincere appreciation for the other’s vocation.

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Kervin in president of Troy Bank & Trust and Ward is a Pike County row-crop farmer.

Ward switched places with Kervin Wednesday morning at the TB&T main office and quickly settled back in the president’s chair.

“I’ve never been on this side of the desk before,” Ward said with a smile. “I’ve always worked for the banker and now he’s working for me.”

Ward is no stranger to the bank. He makes a trip to the bank each spring to make arrangements for his ‘draw.” Then, he starts hoping and praying that Mother Nature will be kind to him so his crops will make.

Kervin understands the plight of the farmers. He knows how almost totally dependent on the weather farmers are and admires their willingness to roll the dice, year and year.

And, too, in a way, Kervin “grew up” on the farm.

“I started working for Mr. Harold Lee on the farm when I was in the seventh grade and worked with him until I graduated from college,” he said. “I hoed peanuts, drove the tractor and fed the cows. We’d go to work just after sunup and work until dark. The farm was 200 acres that were as flat as a tabletop. You could hardly make it from one end of the row to the other with a hoe. So, I know what it’s like to be so thirsty that your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth.”

Ward nodded in agreement.

“What you need to farm is a weak mind and a strong back,” he said, laughing. “Technology has taken some of the backbreaking work out of farming. We’ve got chemicals and mechanical pickers that do the work that hoes and strong backs used to do but farming is still a hard row to hoe.”

Kervin said that technology has made most of the bank’s paper and pencil record keeping a thing of the past.

But even with on-line banking, TB&T still gets about 20,000 automated calls a month and so many people-to-people calls that the bank doesn’t even keep count.

“I come in around 7:15 to answer emails and voice mails and deal with bad checks and we have plenty of those,” Kervin said. “But loans are down. We used to have about 400 loan requests a month. Now, it’s about 200. And farm loans are really down. Most of our farm loans now are for poultry and cattle.”

Ward said he considered getting into the chicken business several years ago, and kind of wishes that he had “back them.”

“Now, it’s just too expensive,” he said. “A chicken house costs about a quarter million dollars.”

Kervin said people in both the urban and rural areas are not borrowing money.

“They want to get out of debt,” he said. “People are more conservative. They are putting their hands on top of their money and don’t let it get away from them.”

Ward said that a farmer’s best friend is the banker because borrowing money is a way of life for a farmer. A loan is a farmer’s bread and butter.

“We have to have a draw to operate,” he said. “This year, I farmed 73 acres of peanuts and that was down from 200 or more. I had 160 acres of cotton and that was up because the record market prices drew me into it. The peanuts were good for this year and the cotton made all right but the corn crop failed. That’s the way it goes.”

For the farmer, the season begins at the bank. Kervin understands that.

“Even with the technology available to banks today, it all reverts back to the tried and true,” Kervin said. “Banking is a people business. You have to know your customers and know what they are doing.”

Kervin and Ward said that doing banking with those you know and trust “on both sides of the table” makes the annual spring trip to the bank less stressful.

For Ward, being responsible for a vault filled with money would be more stress that he could stand. And, short time later, Kervin found that being behind the wheel of a six-row cotton picker was more stress than he could handle.

The farmer and the banker “toured” a Pike County cotton field and Kervin got to do something he had never done before – pick cotton by hand.

Picking a few bolls of cotton by hand was fun but, as Kervin looked down that 1,000-foot row, he was certain that the fun would stop about 10 feet down the row. So, he opted to climb aboard the mechanical picker.

“Picking cotton is hard work either way,” Kervin said. “It’s a hard, dusty job. The hours are long and farming is a thankless job. But I like being out in nature. It’s peaceful and tranquil. Sometimes it gets claustrophobic in my office but I don’t think I would miss the dust and dirt and, when it’s hot or cold or rainy, I think I would rather be in a climate-controlled environment. I appreciate all that our farmers do. They are the backbone of this nation.

Ward expressed appreciation for the “contributions” that bankers make to the agricultural community. But, after spending a morning at the bank, he had no doubts that farm living is the life for him.

“I don’t have to deal with people. I’m isolated out there in the field,” he said. “I like doing things on my own and I sure would hate to have to tell someone they didn’t get a loan. But I’ve always appreciated the bankers. We work hand-in-hand and that’s what it takes to keep our country go and growing.”

And that is the reason behind Farm-City Week and the Farm-City Swap — to reinforce the partnership between the farm and city communities and as a reminder that “you can’t have one without the other.”