Palm City, Fla. – Sprinting across the arena’s dirt course, a nine-year-old American quarter horse named Chrome, and her rider Dawn Smith, compete in regional barrel racing. The sport, predominantly for women, challenges Smith to ride as fast as possible around three barrels spaced apart in a clover leaf pattern.
But Smith doesn’t just dodge barrels in horse racing. Professionally she helps her clients avoid financial hurdles as an agricultural banker for PNC, one of the top 20 ag banks in the nation.
Since 1999, Smith has combined her personal passions for land, animals and people into her professional life. She worked her way up from branch manager to agriculture lender and now travels around the state of Florida to help farmers keep their businesses running smoothly and profitably.
Like other ag bankers at PNC, Smith knows firsthand how a farm or agri-business operates. Growing up on a small Connecticut farm, her family raised cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and horses. She learned to tend to the family’s one-acre vegetable garden and quickly found a comfort with the earth.
Smith also spent long weekends at her best friend’s farm milking their cows and feeding baby calves. Eventually she tagged along with them when they went to compete in local horse shows.
I was exposed to agriculture early on and as a result, I’ve learned to value and respect the land that we live on and also understand the challenges that Mother Nature brings.
Banking has offered her a chance to blend both worlds into one. More importantly, when she sits down with farmers and their families, she “speaks their language” and it immediately creates a more authentic experience. One farmer used Smith’s insights to expand a fern farm from 10 acres to 20 acres and production from about 90,000 ferns to more than 250,000 ferns a year later.
“To be a trusted advisor, always offer assistance, don't wait to be asked,” Smith said. “Stay in contact with your clients on a monthly basis, make sure you have a conversation with them around what's new in their industry, what are their accomplishments or concerns and what the future looks like for them.”
Many of her agri-business clients seek a line of credit to meet capital needs throughout the year until the harvest.
“Farming has its good years and bad years and we just need to make sure as bankers we are educating our clients and their accountants on financial reserves for those down times,” Smith said. “In the past farmers were land rich and cash poor. Today they need to adjust their way of thinking to make it through the bad years.”
A member of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, Smith has competed in rodeo barrel races for the past 15 years. She trains with her horse up to four times per week in the evenings, mostly practicing a walk trot since the training regimen rarely calls for sprints except during a race.
While others compete for significant cash prizes, she does it for fun, driven by a passion for horses that began at age 16 when her parents surprised her with a memorable gift -- her first horse, Drifter.
Cows are also part of Smith’s life. While working on cattle loans for PNC clients a few years ago, she was inspired to launch her own cow-calf operation. She leases land in Okeechobee, about 40 minutes from Palm City, and began with three cows.
Today, her operation is still in the growing phase, which means at any given time she has around 25-30 female cows and 18-20 calves, which weigh between 500-600 lbs. The herd is self-sustainable during the week, so she spends weekends grooming them and checking for health issues. Her breeds range from Angus, Brahman and the Brangus breed (an Angus-Brahman mix). About twice a year, she sells some to the local market and purchases more heifers to start breeding and the cycle starts again.
As a cow-calf operator, Smith and her clients quickly discover they all belong to the same network of people and friends.
“I’ve earned a seat at their table as a trusted advisor which goes beyond just a transaction. It matures into a relationship, which then becomes personal to me.”
For details on how PNC helps farmers, check out the PNC Advantage for Agriculture.
With farming, things can change in the blink of an eye, so be ready for those changes. When I see farmers succeed, it becomes my success.
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