New producers have options for financing 

With the average age of the U.S. farmer nearing 60 years old, the agriculture industry needs new and first-generation farmers to continue crop and livestock production. Loans, grants and resources are available to support new producers. 

Stepping into the agriculture industry as a new or first-generation farmer can be daunting many reasons, such as having limited knowledge or lack of resources and land, especially if farming does not run in the family. 

Tips and tricks from a first-generation farmer

In addition to financial resources, there are communities of people who are willing to share their tips of the trade to aid in industry success. First generation farmer Jennifer Barber Cook of Wooster, Ark., provided her biggest piece of advice for new farmers starting out.

“Stick with the lifestyle. Require your kids to stick with it – that’s the biggest blessing of all. We could’ve jumped ship when things got hard, because there were so many times when you get discouraged and defeated,” Cook said. “But remember the good stuff: the cattle or crop you’re raising, sure. But the people, too. The next generation that could change the world.”

Along with tenacity another key to starting an operation is learning and understanding what you are doing. 

“Knowledge is power,” Cook said. 

She remembers relying on the Cooperative Extension Service by studying every document about beef and crop management. She also subscribed to magazines, read podcasts and did anything to gain information. 

“You can never stop learning,” Cook said. “Just when you think you have it all figured out, something changes, and you have to reevaluate.”

This leads to another foundational aspect of starting an operation: learn from others.

“Find people that do what you’re interested in, and that do it well,” Cook said. 

Cook and her family also got involved in their local Cattleman’s Association. There are multiple groups and communities to join that assist young farmers and ranchers. County Farm Bureau groups, Cattleman’s Associations, Young Farmers and Ranchers or Beginning Farmers are great places to start. 

She said when she needs help, she will opt out of the giant textbook and call someone who is in her network or that she has shared a meal with and ask them their opinion.

Types of loans and grants

One of the largest barriers to farming, especially at the beginning, is finances. Land and equipment are a big investment, but there are multiple grants and loans available to ease these costs.

Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Agency (FSA), producers can apply for Direct Operating Loans, Microloans, Direct Farm Ownership loans and Native American Tribal Loans. To access this funding the producer must have three years of relevant farm experience, though this can be obtained many ways. Follow up with a representative from the FSA to check a personal status. 

Direct Operating Loans can be used to buy livestock, farm equipment, fuel, insurance and farm-operating expenses.

Microloans are used by small and beginning farmers that specialize in niche operations and comes with less restrictions and paperwork. 

Direct Farm Ownership Loans are used to buy land and ranches. Native American Tribal Loans are reserved for Native Americans to preserve cultural farmland.

The FSA is especially committed to producers in their first 10 years of operation through “Beginning Farmer” direct and guaranteed loan programs. 

Farm Ownership loans can provide access to land and capital, and operating loans can help beginning farmers become competitive by helping with normal operating expenses, offer new markets, assist with diversifying operations and more. 

Along with the USDA, Farm Credit also has billions of dollars to give in loans, as well. Farm Credit offers different loans such as real estate loans, facility loans, leases, intermediate-term loans and AgDirect Equipment financing. 

In addition to their loans, Farm Credit offers digital tools such as AgriPoint, Remote Deposit and FCSAmerica Mobile. Specific details about each program and resource can be accessed online or farmers can connect with their local office.

Aside from loans, grants are a great way to get started without having to pay money back. There are specialty crop grants for products that include fruits, vegetables, horticulture and other crops through the Agricultural Marketing Service. 

There is also financial assistance for landowners working to “conserve agricultural lands, wetlands, grasslands and forestlands,” according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. 

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