Farm Credit System’s celebration of 100 years brought a noteworthy focus on younger farmers. Traditionally thought of as a lending source for established farm and agribusiness enterprises, this spring’s Farm Credit 100 events in the nation’s capital underscored its growth as a financial and management resource for young, beginning and small-scale farmers and ranchers.
The events, kicked off during National Ag Week, brought a lot of synergy and focus on younger farmers. “A lot of beginning farmers aren’t so young,” points out Todd Van Hoose, president and CEO of the Farm Credit Council.
To better track loans made to this segment, Farm Credit associations split young farmer/rancher loans into three groups: Young – those 35 years and younger; beginning – those farming 10 years or less; and small – those with gross annual sales under $250,000.
New loans to these groups rose 3.5%, 4.0% and 2.3%, respectively, from 2014 to 2015. Dollar volume of loans increased 6.0%, 6.4% and 2.3% respectively from 2014 to 2015.
“We make specific efforts to meet their unique financing needs to help them thrive even as lower commodity prices put pressure on farmers,” adds Van Hoose.
The event included a panel discussion by young farmers and ranchers exploring opportunities and needs for next-gen agriculture. Here’s a quick-read:
Wild horses couldn’t keep Oldham from ranching
Odessa Oldham, a Navajo sheep and cattle rancher from Lander, Wyo., was honored earlier this spring as a Farm Credit 100 influencer. As a 13-year-old, she started her own cattle operation with a Farm Service Agency loan, and today partners with her brother and parents in pasturing 600 head of all-natural beef and lamb on their father’s 900-acre Double-D Beef ranch.
They market in package deals or on the hoof. “As a business, we sell our product, and offer education. The local FFA chapter comes out to learn, and participate in daily chores.”
Getting off the reservation [or farm] and getting an education is imperative, she stresses. It opened her eyes to opportunities and spiked her inspiration. After doing so, she became a founder of the Native American Youth Agriculture Summit in association with the University of Arkansas’ Indigenous Food & Agriculture Initiative.
The Double-D is the newest of three wild horse sanctuaries in America. And Oldham has earned a new title of Wild Horse Cultural Educator.
Oldham sees financing as the biggest challenge. “When we started, we went to FSA, then Farm Credit. Commercial banks still often don’t understand the business of agriculture. We [young farmers] need to be taken seriously.”
Veterans need experienced ag mentors like Ingrao
Adam Ingrao, an Army veteran and executive director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan, is a National Science Foundation Fellow at Michigan State University. His entomology expertise in sustainable pest management led him back to establishing an urban farm in Lansing.
In January, Bee Wise Farms, LLC was established as a Community Supported Agriculture project and acquired more land on the city’s east side. “I can’t make a whole lot of income living off the land, yet,” he concedes, but adds, “Coming back from the military was a very rough time for me. Agriculture was an opportunity for personal wellness.”
He and wife, Lacey, provide the greater Lansing community with organically-raised vegetables, cut flowers and bee products. They also have educational and wellness outreach programs, including the Veteran Mentorship program, teaching veterans about urban bee-keeping.