As dairies emerge from a painful recession, a veteran attorney urges attention to the critical fiscal steps still needed to move forward.
By Riley Walter, attorney
Since last writing for Dairy Today, milk prices are up and I am hearing sighs of relief across the dairy industry.
While I don’t want to deprive anyone of a feeling of relief, this does cause me to make two comments.
First, I am hearing the sighs of relief, but I am not hearing how many dairymen are going to address the huge mound of built-up unsecured debt they owe. While the milk price is up, and while dairymen are beginning to sprinkle money around to their creditors, that mound of debt is huge in many instances and is going to have to be addressed in one form or another. I note that some of the creditors who are not being "sprinkled" are beginning to initiate the long-anticipated collection suits, now that they can see that there could be some money at the end of the rainbow.
The second point relates to refinancing. We are all aware that some of the main-line commercial banks would just as soon not have dairies in their lending portfolio. Some even take more aggressive action to force them out of the bank before maturity. Others appear to be biding their time so that when loan renewal comes up, they may or may not be willing to lend.
This leads me to suggest that dairymen need to be looking ahead now to see how and when, if at all, they will be able to refinance.
In connection with this, here are some thoughts:
- Dairymen will want to pay attention to which banks are, and are not, making dairy loans. Some long-experienced dairy bankers have been moving around to other banks, and this leads me to believe that there may be banks in the mood to make dairy loans before very long.
- Dairymen need to consider rebuilding relationships. Many dairymen have had long relationships with experienced dairy lender personnel, and now would be a good time to just check in to find out what the attitudes of the banks are and what banks are looking for in new dairy loans.
- It goes without saying that dairymen need to monitor values. If you are going to refinance, you may want to do so when values are up and trending up, rather than the other way around.
- Dairymen will want to educate themselves as to the rules that apply to lenders. This is not 2007, where someone with a ball cap could get a loan. Regulations are much more stringent now. You need to know about those rules as you start the process of looking for a new lender. A simple example is the rules about lending to a dairy that may be within a floodplain and whether this would require extensive engineering work before a loan would even be considered.
- Last, and certainly not least, dairymen need to get their houses in order. They need to make sure that all of their entity documents are current and up to date. They need to be sure that they have documented all easements. They need to be sure they know exactly what collateral they have to pledge. Now is the time to get the books and records in tip-top shape. Pull together copies of all of the documents that you will need to support your loan request.
There is life after the crash, but lessons have been learned – painfully.
Riley Walter is an attorney and founder of the Central Valley-based Walter & Wilhelm Law Group, a law firm specializing in agribusiness, reorganization and bankruptcy. Contact him at 559-435-9800 or RileyWalter@W2LG.com.