Lee grew up in custom combining, leasing biz

David Lee grew up in farming and ag equipment financing in the Devils Lake, N.D., area and now is agricultural business development manager for Western Equipment Finance, a subsidiary of Western State Bank. He says a deep understanding of how equipment needs change is key to his business.

David Lee is agricultural business development manager for Western Equipment Finance, based in Devils Lake, N.D. Photo taken Sept.15, 2020, at Big Iron farm show in West Fargo, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — David Lee is the national agricultural business development manager for Western Equipment Finance at Devils Lake. It is a subsidiary of Western State Bank.

Lee, 54, grew up on a farm about 20 miles north of Devils Lake. After graduating from Starkweather High School in 1984, he went right into farming with the family. Until 2001, he worked with Lee Custom Harvesting with his father, Don, and brother Doug.

“Part of the farming side of it was that we rented out, leased out equipment,” he remembers. “I went to work for a local lender that did our operating line at the time.”

A group of seven farmers formed Ag Lease LLC of Devils Lake. In 1998, David got out of the farming and combining side and went solely into equipment financing.

The LLC used Western State Bank for its line of credit, and eventually became a bank subsidiary.


“We rented out combines, bean equipment and planting equipment,” he said. “It was real local except for the combines, which went south to Texas and back up.” Eventually, the company focused solely on the financing.

Although David has been out of custom harvesting for 15 years, he still is a member of U.S. Custom Harvesting Association, and plans to attend the annual convention Jan. 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“A lot of my customers are harvesters. A lot of my vendors that sell equipment are part of that,” David said.

Farmers buy the equipment and Western Equipment Finance does the “paper,” or loan.

In the past, the company would own a combine and rent it out. “Now (customers) are buying the combine and we’re financing the combine for them. It’s just another finance source,” he said.

Western Equipment Finance operates nationwide but has offices in nine states. There are banks in Arizona and North Dakota, with its main headquarters is in Devils Lake. The bank has been around for 125 years and has been in the finance side since 1990. The leasing company has markets in nine industries — sanitation, tourism, and fitness among them.

On the rise

David’s company is lending out $5 million to $6 million more than they were a few years ago — about a 15% percent growth in sales. David tries to increase his production by 15% per year.

“More people are using this avenue,” he said, “keeping their banks for their line of credit. We don’t do any line of credit, real estate — just strictly equipment.”


“When times are leaner, farmers are more apt to finance a $40,000 piece of equipment, or lease a $40,000 piece of equipment versus buy and pay for it,” Lee said. “It keeps their capital in their pocket.”

His company sets it up on a four-, five- or six-year deal, with yearly payments versus putting it on their line of credit at the bank.

Western Equipment Finance features “application-only” on amounts up to $250,000.

"Every day is a new day,” David said. “Every day you learn something new and different about someone’s equipment needs. You get to know their families, and it’s all good.”

He works in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota — and straight south to Kansas.

“I call it (U.S. Highway) 281 south,” he said. “

The bulk of David’s new business comes from old business, he said. Agricultural know-how is vital to his job. School is fine, but has its limits.

“It’ll teach you the computer side, the numbers side of it, but you’re going to need to know the business — what they actually do.” The biggest complaint he hears about bank loan officers is lack of insight.


David and his wife, Tammy, in the marketing side of banking, have two grown daughters and five grandchildren.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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