Anyone who qualifies for the title of “farm kid” knows there’s a lot of trial and error and amateur mechanical engineering that goes on behind the machine shed doors.
Charlie Schafer, who grew up with five brothers on a farm seven miles outside Adair, Iowa, was no exception.
“As kids, we'd always be working on projects or trying to build something or fixing something to make it better,” recalled Schafer.
That farm boy upbringing created fertile ground for entrepreneurial seeds that eventually sprouted into Agri Drain, a nationwide ag water management business founded by Schafer and two of his brothers.
“I had intended to farm when I got out of junior college,” said Schafer, who is now president of Agri Drain corporation. “My brother Chris had purchased a trencher and wanted me to get involved with him. I did, and our brother, Bill, joined us. For eight years from 1976 to 1984, we were drainage contractors. We installed product for subsurface drainage systems and all different types of construction activities associated with excavation.”
Building a better drainage system
After nearly a decade of contracting, Charlie and his brothers’ farm boy product-improvement genes kicked in.
“Oftentimes we couldn't get the products we wanted or thought they weren't priced right, or they didn't work exactly the way we thought they could or should,” Schafer said. “From our experience in the field, we began to manufacture our own products for use on our projects. Then we started to sell them to other contractors.”
As that part of the business grew, Schafer and his brothers stopped construction activities and went strictly into manufacturing and distribution of water management products.
The company has evolved from a gravity-flow-based approach to drainage to also offering automated “Smart Drainage Systems” based on the goal of only draining as much water as is absolutely necessary for healthy crop production and trafficability. The approach helps maximize production while minimizing environmental threats due to runoff.
Today Agri Drain employs about 40 in Schafer’s hometown of Adair where it manufactures and supplies products for drainage water management, sub-irrigation, wetlands, ponds, lakes, erosion control, and land management in the US and Canada.
Finding a forward-thinking bank partner
In 2007, with his company growing, Schafer started searching for a bank that could keep up with the pace of his business and would be more responsive to the company’s needs. “We found that in Northwest Bank,” Schafer said.
Northwest Bank was able to provide Schafer with the technological tools that allowed more banking tasks to be done remotely. Today Agri Drain uses internet-enabled services — like ACH and wire transfers, remote deposits and transfers among internal accounts — all of which make routine banking tasks faster and more convenient.
Along with fast and efficient day-to-day interactions, Schafer appreciates the availability of capital. “I feel like Northwest Bank is prepared to assist my business with any growth opportunity. That's really important for me and the future of my business.”
“Northwest Bank has been extremely supportive,” he said. “They provide good advice. It’s easy to discuss with them all aspects of the industry specific to our company and what's going on out there in agriculture and beyond. It really made the banking experience much more personal than I think it has become in a lot of cases.”
Big bank capabilities, small town service
Northwest Bank also offers Schafer the personal service that echoes the small-town banking experience of his youth, yet with all larger banks’ technology tools and capabilities.
“When we met with Don Nickerson and Jill Thielen, it just felt like a fit. They are so open and common-sense and just really easy and flexible to work with, and I've always enjoyed working with them,” Schafer said.
Schafer also gives Northwest Bank the ultimate compliment — referrals.
“I always love to be able to recommend Northwest Bank to other friends and associates. And I do it absolutely worry-free. They're just great people.”
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