With women an increasing presence in agriculture, USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan officer Mary Held had a lot to tell participants earlier this month at the third annual Ag Women’s Day event in Brookings, S.D.
Women make up about 30 percent of all farm operators in the U.S., with an average size of the operation at 210 acres, according to the most recent farm census. The numbers could be higher now.
Many programs offered by FSA are designed to help women and minorities buy and operate farms.
Beginning farmers also are included in many of the program offerings for the “socially disadvantaged,” with covered minorities including blacks, American Indians, Alaskan natives, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Sixty-two percent of loans made in South Dakota last year by the FSA were to socially disadvantaged or beginning farmers.
One new program just being introduced nationwide after pilot programs is a land contract guarantee program. This provides a new approach for landowners willing to sell and finance a land purchase to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher.
“In this program, FSA guarantees the payments to the seller,” Held said.
The guarantee provides an incentive to sell to individuals in these groups as it reduces the financial risk to the seller if a buyer defaults on contract payments.
In addition to the more well-known FSA operating, real estate and disaster programs, Held talked about a program for rural youths and one for farm storage facilities becoming more popular.
The rural youth loan program helps finance income-producing ag-related projects for rural youths ages 10 to 20 participating in a 4-H, FFA or similar organization. “It’s a great program for kids who want to get into a 4-H or FFA project,” she said.
In Brookings County, Held said, 20 to 25 such loans are in place with youths who have “some great projects.”
“The loan is in the kids’ name, and when they put it in their name, it’s amazing how much more interested they become,” she said. The loan maximum is $5,000.
Youths sometimes get a one-year operating loan to buy feeder cattle or a term loan to buy breeding stock, she said. “It’s just a wonderful program,” she said.
The farm storage facility loans have become popular in the past six to seven years because of increasing commodity prices. The loans provide low-interest financing to producers to build or upgrade farm storage and handling facilities such as grain bins or hay sheds.
Held said she gets asked whether FSA competes with commercial credit operations, but she said they often work with banks and other lending operations.
For example, in a 40-year farm ownership program for socially disadvantaged or beginning farmers, there’s a 5 percent down payment with 45 percent of the loan at 1.5 percent interest, with the rest coming from a bank.
With a maximum of $300,000 on many of the loans, Held said many wonder how far that can go because of the high price of land.
“That’s where the down payment or the participating bank help,” she said.
Beginning farmers and ranchers eligible for the program are required not to have operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years and must participate substantially in the operation.
A new website is offering help to beginning farmers. It’s called start2farm.gov. It includes links to training, financing, technical assistance and other support services specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers.
FSA outreach program official Gail Gullickson talked about a discrimination program claims process starting this summer for farmers and ranchers who allege discrimination based on being female or Hispanic in making or servicing farm loans during certain periods between 1981 and 2000.
To register their name or receive a claims packet, farmers and ranchers can call the Farmer and Rancher Call Center at 888-508-4429 or access www.farmerclaims.gov.
Gullickson also said a new outreach tool is available to try to reach underserved farmers and ranchers not currently enrolled in USDA loan, farm or conservation programs. They can join the USDA Minority Farm Register to receive information and opportunities from USDA agencies. Registration forms are available on the FAS website at www.fsa.usda.gov.
Held said existing program participants can contact their local offices for new email and text alerts about FSA programs to help the agency handle budget constraints as far as sending out newsletters. FSA is trying new, more high-tech ways to keep producers informed.
She also noted that nominations for local FSA “county committees” are open through Aug. 1.
She pointed to a couple of women who were on the committees in Brookings and Lake counties in South Dakota and urged others to get involved to help monitor programs and provide input.