GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Todd Olson has never had a personal stake in livestock, but he has examined plenty of farm loans during his career that has included working as an examiner at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and as a cattle and ag credit underwriter.
Over the years, Olson says he became frustrated with the lack of information livestock producers had to go on when it came to making business decisions. Break-even information on crops, including the North Dakota State University Extension's annual spreadsheets on crop financial information, offer farmers a way to compare decisions. But, when it comes to cattle, the information necessary to make an informed decision isn't always there.
So, in his spare time, Olson started working on a tool to help cattle producers better understand their risks and opportunities. Thrivestock's mission, he says, is to build producer peace of mind through financial understanding for users. That way, producers have the information they need to strengthen their operation, whether they're focused on growth, debt reduction, succession planning or other goals.
"It's all about that financial understanding," he says.
Olson says ranchers are well-versed in caring for cattle. They know all about calving and feed rations, but they don't always have the financial knowledge that helps to look at the risk level of an overall operation.
Thrivestock asks producers questions about equity positions, term payments, calf production, culling, custom feeding and cash crop production. Once the questions are answered, Thrivestock gives producers a risk level. They can change their answers to see how making small changes would change their risk level. The tool, which relies heavily on Farm Service Agency and Extension data, also gives break-even information for each enterprise of an operation.
Jeff Petersen of Oakes, N.D., is one of the approximately 50 people Olson says have used the tool since he released it earlier this year. Peterson and his sons calve out more than 600 cows and also feed their own and some purchased calves to finish, along with some lambs. Along with that, Peterson is an ag lender at Choice Bank in Ellendale, N.D. He says Thrivestock seems like a good "barometer to see how they're doing."
"A lot of people kind of have been doing the same thing for years ... and maybe this would give you a snapshot of how you compare," he says.
On Peterson's operation, Thrivestock reinforced the fact that finishing calves is the highest risk thing they do and got him and his sons talking about whether they would be better off just backgrounding calves and selling at a lighter weight. It's a conversation they'll continue to have.
Additionally, Peterson plans to use Thrivestock as a starting point with his clients at the bank as they move into loan renewal season. Farmers and ranchers tend to be excellent at producing, he says, but they don't always have financing planning as a priority.
"They're always going to do them when they catch up with everything else," he says.
He thinks Thrivestock could be a good way to broach the subjects of risk, risk mitigation and how different portions of operations are performing.
For now, Olson says people have used Thrivestock mostly in the way Peterson did - to get a snapshot of their operations and talk through possible changes. He is open to, in the future, going a step further and helping people find lenders that align to their operations and needs.
For more information on Thrivestock, visit https://trythrivestock.com.