Bill Dachle lends to cranberry growers - and his loans don't go sour.

In Wisconsin, a state better known for its dairy products, his bank has proved there's a niche for everyone.

Wood County National Bank takes only one slice of the farm lending pie - cranberries. "We know cranberry growing best, so that's what we do," says Mr. Dachle, a vice president.

The bank, based in Wisconsin Rapids, has financed cranberry growers since the turn of the century, said Steve Bell, its president and chief executive.

Wisconsin is the second-largest cranberry producer, after Massachusetts, and most of the bogs are within 50 miles of the bank, Mr. Dachle said.

He acknowledged that concentrating in one product could be risky for the bank - if, for instance, growers face weather problems, or prices dip from a cranberry health scare.

But the bank's long experience and tested underwriting techniques - including a crop insurance requirement - mitigates the risk, he said. "We have not had - knock on wood - a situation where there's been numerous growers who have been hard hit," he said.

Wood County has no cranberry-related loan losses, he said, and the niche is as profitable as the bank's other lines of business. The bank recently posted strong return on assets of 1.89% and return on equity of 17.67, Mr. Bell said.

The Farm Credit System and other banks do finance cranberry growers, but Wood County claims to be Wisconsin's leading cranberry bank.

"I can't imagine anyone else even coming close" to its amount of cranberry loans, said Mr. Dachle, who handles nearly all of them.

About 20% of Wood County's total loans are to cranberry growers, Mr. Bell said.

The bank is so entwined with the industry that it's offices house the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.

Michael Olson, vice president of Bancroft State Bank, a $25 million- asset institution nearby, admitted that Wood County has bushels more cranberry business than any other bank in the state.

"Most of these people are very well established," at Wood County, he said. "These cranberry growers are a close-knit group."

Most of the cranberry growers Wood County deals with are members of the Massachusetts-based cooperative Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., which claims about 80% of both U.S. and Wisconsin cranberry production, Mr. Dachle said.

Craige Scott, Ocean Spray's chairman, runs 100-acre Scott Cranberry Marsh in Warrens, Wis., and has about $500,000 in long- and short-term loans with Wood County.

"I like that the bank has a good handle on the cranberry business," said Mr. Scott, who has done business with Wood County for 20 years.

Lenders need to understand that this particular business has significant front-end costs, Mr. Dachle said. He said it takes about five years after the vines are planted for a cranberry operation to achieve full production capacity. However, once they're producing, vines can last 100 years, he said.

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