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Agricultural banking program yields doubling of business

PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMPKINS VIST BANK From left: Branden Wolfskill and his father, Dave Wolfskill, with Travis Werley of Tompkins VIST, on the Wolfskill farm in the Wernersville area. The Wolfskills are customers of Tompkins VIST Bank.

An often overlooked yet vitally important sector of small banking is that of farmers.

They ensure there is enough food in production for everyday eating but are not necessarily thought about except at farmers’ market and roadside stands.

Tompkins VIST Bank opened its agricultural banking department in November 2015 after hiring Travis Werley for his expertise in managing banking needs specifically in relation to farmers.

The agricultural banker, based in Tompkins VIST’s Spring Township office, often handles business on the road, from his truck.

“Since the end of 2015, we have almost doubled our commitments in agriculture,” said Werley, the bank’s agricultural relationship manager.

With more than two decades of experience in working with farmers across a number of banks and mergers, Werley not only has a financial background, he is also a farmer.

His agricultural pursuit, Just A Mere Farm in Ontelaunee Township, features corn, soybeans, grain sorghum, rye and hay. His son, Jonathan, raises calves for 4-H projects.

“I believe you can take a farmer and make them a banker, but it would be a lot harder to take a banker and make him a farmer,” said Werley, who grew up on a small hobby farm in Maidencreek Township.


A good number of customers from Werley’s former banking stints followed him to Tompkins VIST Bank, and his agricultural department has expanded. Word-of-mouth among farmers is a big reason for the growth.

“Farming is a unique business,” he said. “Many operations are very reliant on the weather and Mother Nature.”

An industry depending on a factor such as this leads to issues as well as opportunities for farmers.

“This, along with cash basis tax accounting and the ability to move inventories from year to year and also prepay expenses for the future years, allows a farming operation to move its taxable profit around from year to year,” Werley said. “If a bank does not understand this or have the ability or knowledge of how to dig deeper into the operation’s profitability, it may appear to be a bad risk to the untrained eye.”


Werley noted that farmers can be rich in assets but cash poor.

“Their assets may include larger tracts of land which cannot be financed under residential guidelines,” he said. “A non-ag commercial lender often doesn’t understand this, as there is no defined cash flow or development plan for the property.”

The complexities of agriculture, along with the benefits of advancing technologies to manage farming, make it a smart market to support when it comes to those who truly understand it.

“Our beginnings at Tompkins VIST Bank in ag lending have been strong, and as we move through our third year, we’re continuing to build momentum,” Werley said.


Bradley Biehl and his family operates Corner View Farm LLC in Richmond and Maxatawny townships, farming 250 acres of owned and lease land.

“We raise corn for grain and corn silage, alfalfa and grass hay, soybeans and wheat,” said Biehl, who began working with Werley this year. “We also grow rye and triticale [a hybrid of wheat and rye] in the winter for spring forage, followed by corn.”

Biehl’s farm also is home to 125 milking cows, 30 dry cows and 125 young cattle, all Holsteins. A robotic milking system was installed six years ago.

“After our first meeting with Werley, I really felt like he understood the challenges we were facing in a very difficult agriculture economy,” Biehl said. “He worked hard on our behalf to come up with a plan which would help our fifth-generation farm be successful.”


Biehl said no other bank had such a competitive solution.

“We live a very busy life and have a busy schedule, so we extensively use the online services to operate our business efficiently,” he said.

Having the same lifestyle as farmers helps land customers, Werley said.

“Most farmers like the fact that I currently farm and get my fingers dirty,” he said. “It gives me clout with them that I understand what it takes to do the farming work and what a farming lifestyle is like, including dealing with Mother Nature, market fluctuations, crop diseases, equipment breakdowns and long days and nights.”

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