The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 31, 2013

New microloan program offers help for start-up farmers

The Daily Southerner

TARBORO — Cotton, peanut and tobacco fields are common sights in Edgecombe County, which has a strong agricultural heritage that remains intact today.

“It provides probably our No. 1 industry for Edgecombe County,” said Kenny Johnson, executive director of the Edgecombe County Farm Service Agency (FSA).

A new microloan program offers help for start-up farmers, which in turn could help Edgecombe County’s tax base, said Johnson. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s microloan program is designed to help start-up and socially disadvantaged farmers secure loans under $35,000

Eddie Woodhouse, North Carolina public affairs and outreach director for USDA FSA, said agricultural producers in the county could use microloan funds to pay for “initial start-up expenses.”

“Examples include hoop houses to extend the growing season, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles, and annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, and distribution expenses,” Woodhouse said.

Johnson said the loans could help vegetable farmers selling their produce at the farmers’ market to expand their gardens and could provide extra resources for small livestock farmers, as well.

“For those small livestock producers, it might help them establish a small beef herd or establish a pasture, maybe be able to rent some land,” he said. “This is what the government had in mind with these loans.”

Johnson stressed the importance of getting “new and beginning farmers” enrolled into programs such as the microloan program.

“It [farming] is getting more expensive to get into,” he said. “This is a way maybe they can get started on a small scale and establish some credit history. These will be lower interest rates than credit card rates.”

The interest rate for the microloan project changes monthly and is currently at 1.25 percent.

“The design offers more efficient processing times for smaller loans, adds flexibility to some of the loan eligibility requirements, and reduces application requirements. Microloans are limited to $35,000, with terms up to 7 years,” Woodhouse said. As their financial needs increase, farmers can apply for an operating loan up to the maximum amount of $300,000 or get financing from a commercial lender under FSA’s Guaranteed Loan Program.

“By further expanding access to credit to those just starting to put down roots in farming, USDA continues to help grow a new generation of farmers, while ensuring the strength of an American agriculture sector that drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides the most secure and affordable food supply in the world,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Those interested in applying for a microloan can contact the farm service agency in Tarboro at 823-8187.