Farmers for the Future: Launching young farmers
Remember the 1995 movie, "Mr. Holland's Opus?" Its end showed scores of former students who reaped lifetime lessons taught by a humble music teacher.
Well, Roger and Monie Thompson have created a similar "opus" -- a top career achievement that one accomplishes -- of young southwestern Ohio farmers. The Springfield, Ohio, producers have helped start 22 young farmers since the 1980s. It's their way of passing on the help they received from folks early in their farming career.
"Everyone helps everyone," says Roger.
They team with young farmers who have lots of desire and talent but little capital and little or no land. Some are relatives, some aren't.
Here's how it works. Roger scours the area in a process he calls "bird-dogging" to find a farm that fits the young farmer. Once found, Roger negotiates a selling price and buys it with a separate line of bank credit he has and rents it to the young farmer.
Roger Thompson 1 - Farmers for the FutureSo what drives Roger Thompson to help young farmers garner a beginning land base?
Meanwhile, the farmer applies for a beginning farmer loan from the Farm Service Agency (FSA). This enables beginning young farmers to finance a land purchase for just 5% down with a federally guaranteed low-interest-rate loan.
His farmers soon graduate to commercial lenders for the rest of the loan life, but the program enables farmers to finance a land purchase.
It's harder than it sounds.
"The worst thing about FSA loans is you have to fill out all the paperwork to buy land," says Bryan Thompson, a grandson who Roger has helped with land purchase.
The process takes anywhere from four to 18 months. During the loan process, the farmer rents the land from the Thompsons and then buys it upon the loan approval.
Since the Thompsons have already bought the farm, though, the farm purchase is secure. "You have to strike while the iron is hot," says Roger.
The farms he bird-dogs are good ones, but not the class A-1 farms.
"We don't go out and bid on prime farmland," says Jeff Gordin, a Cedarville, Ohio, farmer who has been helped with land purchases by the Thompsons. "It's the stuff that goes under the radar."
Once a land purchase is completed, Roger continues to shepherd the farmers. "He's a mentor, a motivator," says Jeff.
The Thompsons aren't done yet, either. They continue to help young folks like Rob Hamman. Rob is a partner in a family drainage business in Mount Sterling, Ohio, but he would like to gain a foothold in farming with a land purchase.
Ditto for grandson Dave Vallery, who's now renting 140 acres from the Thompsons.