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Q&A: Help beyond the FSA

Agriculture.com Staff 07/07/2010 @ 9:08am

Q: I read your article about the memo to Secretary Veneman, and I was just wondering about programs in Kansas. I was looking for more information on grant programs in Kansas -- either a Web site or office to call. If you know of any programs or places to find more info, I'd appreciate knowing. -- Beginning farmer in east-central Kansas

A: As you might expect, there aren't a lot of outright grants available to beginning farmers. USDA's best known program for beginning farmers is probably the one for land ownership and operating loans available from Farm Service Agency.

By law, most of the loans made directly by this agency to producers are targeted to startup farmers and ranchers. Unfortunately, loan funds for this are somewhat limited. Most of the loans that the government now has a hand in are private bank loans guaranteed by FSA rather than loans made directly to farmers. And, with high land costs, it can be difficult to make even the subsidized direct loans of FSA cash flow.

But, if you haven't already, I would certainly contact FSA about its loan programs. Some states are more active than others in promoting beginning farmer loans, but I know there are many dedicated FSA staffers who want to help young producers get started if they have a realistic business plan.

There are some programs from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that might be helpful if you already own land. The EQIP program run by NRCS (Envirnmental Quality Incentives Program) has been used to pay up to 75% of the cost of new wells and water systems that improve grazing management, for example. I wrote about this program in the October 2003 issue of our magazine, Successful Farming (pp 33-36). If you qualify for EQIP cost sharing and NRCS considers you a beginning farmer, you could get up to 90% cost share. In some areas, EQIP funds are also being used to improve irrigation efficiency. I'd contact your local NRCS office while you're visiting FSA. In many counties, they're in the same office building.

Another possibility might be value-added grants from USDA. Most of the time these go to established farmers who form some type of co-op to process or market enhanced-value products, but this could be done by a group of young farmers, perhaps. That's an idea suggested to me yesterday by John Hays of the Farm Credit Council in Washington, DC. John is a member of the Advisory Committee that I wrote about last week. He wasn't in the office when I put the story together. Other members of the committee credit John with arguing for a more coordinated, department-wide approach to helping beginning farmers at USDA.

This is USDA's home page for the Value-Added Producer Grants program: www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/coops/vadg.htm If you look on the lower right side of that page you'll see a link to "State VAPG contacts."

Good luck with your plans! --Dan Looker

Email Dan at dan.looker@meredith.com

Q: I read your article about the memo to Secretary Veneman, and I was just wondering about programs in Kansas. I was looking for more information on grant programs in Kansas -- either a Web site or office to call. If you know of any programs or places to find more info, I'd appreciate knowing. -- Beginning farmer in east-central Kansas

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