New and beginning farmers and ranchers have a lot on their minds, especially in the early planning stages.
And that’s when Lilia McFarland hopes these entrepreneurs will look to the USDA – its many offices nationwide as well as its popular online resource,
New Farmers also gives comprehensive information on women, young farmers and veterans pursuing agriculture opportunities as well as guides for farms in transition.
McFarland, USDA’s New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program Coordinator, said “we want you to come see us. It doesn’t matter what door you walk in.
“We want you to tell us about your hopes and dreams,” McFarland said, continuing, and in return, she and USDA representatives can tell you about the diversity of the department’s New Farmer (and Rancher) programs.
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is often “the lender of first opportunity” for many new and beginning producers. Since 2009 FSA has granted more than 102,000 direct and guaranteed farm operating and farm ownership loans to beginning farmers and ranchers. That’s an average of more than 2,000 loans per state.
Additionally, the USDA National Farmers Market Directory now lists more than 8,400 farmers markets nationwide, nearly double the amount it listed in 2006.
New farmers and ranchers should know that FSA’s microloan program (for loans of $50,000 or less) is an important access point to credit for some entrepreneurs.
On the other end of the spectrum, farmers and ranchers can apply for loans up to $300,000 for both farm ownership as well as operating programs. “Unlike commercial creditors, FSA is able to provide 100 percent financing for farm loans,” said Dylan Holloway, an FSA farm loan officer in Bolivar, Mo.
Entrepreneurs intent on gaining a federal loan must write a comprehensive business plan, often formed, in part, by consciously answering four key questions, each beginning with the wording “What is (or Who are) your …?”:
Purpose: Why do you want to become a farmer or rancher? Do you really have what it takes, and are you ready to put in the countless hours needed to succeed?
Plan: This is the roadmap; it’s the most important element of starting an operation. Once you’ve written it and before you’ve submitted it to the USDA or other lending institutions, have your plan reviewed by several appropriate sources.
Product: What will you be producing? Farm products? Livestock? Specialty products and services?
People: Who will you collaborate with to make your operation a success?
Entrepreneurial thinking also should include considering an array of FDA risk-management opportunities, to include:
Crop Insurance – Insurance products include a variety of production practices, including organic and sustainable agriculture.
Disaster Assistance – USDA’s FSA and Natural Resources Conservation Service can often provide relief from natural disasters such as drought, flood, fire, freeze, tornadoes and pest infestation.
Conservation Assistance – USDA provides farmers and ranchers the technical and financial assistance that can improve the environment as well benefit agricultural operations.
Conflicts with Wildlife – USDA’s Wildlife Services can answer your questions about problematic wildlife on your ranch or farm.
Still need a little help? Go to and click on the “Extended Stories” link for online tools to assist new farmers and ranchers manage their business.


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