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FSA Announces Major Changes in Farm Loan Handbook

Today, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) notified the National Young Farmers’ Coalition of changes in their loan handbook that will make it easier for the nation’s young farmers to qualify for farm loans. This is a major win for the coalition, as we’ve been advocating for more leniency in farm loan rules to accomodate the range of new training opportunities for today’s young farmers. According to NYFC’s 2011 survey, Access to capital is the number one challenge facing beginning farmers. 

The new handbook language gives new flexibility to loan officers when deciding if a farmer has sufficient managerial ability to repay a loan, and adds specificity about the types of educational and on-the-job experiences that qualify.  Managerial ability is a determining factor in operating loan applications. The handbook also adds a new example under the farm experience requirement for farm ownership loans, that may help young farmers who were previously denied financing

Here’s the breakdown:

The handbook now says that the managerial requirement for all loans can be met through (1) Education, (2) On-the-job Training or (3) Experience — or one of the three:

“The applicant may satisfy the managerial ability requirement with any combination of education, on-the-job training and farm experience, or by meeting just 1 of these criteria.”

New education requirements:

The handbook now specifies examples of university and non-accredited programs that qualify as farm education. 

  • Successful completion of farm management curriculum offered by the Cooperative Extension Service, a community college, adult vocational agri program culture, or land grant university 
    • The Small Farm Program, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. 
    • Specialty Crops Program, University of Colorado. 
    • Cultivating Success, University of Idaho Extension, Washington State 
    • University Small Farms and Rural Roots. 
  • successful completion of a community-based, nationally based, non-profit, or similar farm workshop programs
    • Annie’s Project. 
    • Alcorn State University Small Farm Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Program. 
    • Michigan State University Organic Farmer Program

New “On-the-job training” requirements:

The handbook is now exceptionally clear that apprenticeships ( holla! ) qualify as farm experience and it outlines example programs. The previous handbook had very little detail on what “on-the-job” training meant. Here’s the new language:

(2) On-the-job training. For example, the applicant is currently working on a farm as part of an apprenticeship program. 

To meet the managerial ability requirement through on-the-job training alone, the applicant is currently: 

  • *–working, or has recently worked, as hired farm labor with management responsibilities 
      • Example: A hired hand or farm labor team leader who makes independent day-to-day farm management decisions. 
  • completing, or recently completed, a farm mentorship or internship program with an emphasis on management requirements and day-to-day farm decisions, such as those offerings found through: 
      • Rogue Farm Corps 
      • Cultivating Success 
      • Many Hands Farm Corps 
      • The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation 
      • Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program 
      • Georgia Organics Mentoring Program–*
  • *–participating, or recently participated, in urban or community-supported agriculture programs which incorporate basic agricultural training, such as: 
      • Agriculture Training Institute 
      • Refugee Agriculture Partnership Programs 
      • Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture 
      • Growing Power, Inc. 
      • Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens 
      • Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation, Inc., and the Viet Village Aquaponic Park Project.

Experience Requirement:

FSA added new language to the Farm Experience language that’s inclusive of farm workers and young farmers who have previously received youth loans (new language in boldface):

To meet the managerial ability requirement through farming experience alone, the applicant *–may have:

  • been an owner of a farm business with management and operator responsibilities for at least 1 entire production and marketing cycle 
  • been employed as a migrant farm worker and has been elevated to a leadership or foreperson position for at least 1 entire production and marketing cycle and whose responsibilities include crop and field management, livestock health, breeding supervision, labor management or hiring, or general farm management
  • been employed as a farm manager or farm management consultant for at least 1 entire production and marketing cycle 
  • raised on a farm and held significant responsibility for day-to-day management decisions for at least 1 entire production and marketing cycle 
  • obtained and successfully repaid one FSA Youth-OL.

Experience Requirement for farm ownership loans

Unlike operating loans, farm ownership loans require that the applicant has managed a farm for 3 years. In the past, this requirement has been interpreted very narrowly and only farmers who had filed a Schedule-F could qualify. Although the rules were made more flexible before the recent change, the new handbook language is very clear that farm workers can meet the experience requirement for a farm ownership loan. 

FSA added a new example of successful applicant “John Smith”, who’s been managing a farm, but was not the principal operator: 

John Smith applies for an FO to purchase a farm. He indicates on his  application that he has worked as a migrant laborer for the last 10 years. 5 years ago he was placed in a managerial position where in addition to supervising the work crew, he decides what fields are to be worked, planting rates, and the majority of daily management decisions related to the operation. John Smith is eligible for an FO as his work as the crew leader and daily manager of the operation is sufficient to qualify for FSA assistance.–*

The FSA also puts less emphasis on tax records (the dreaded Schedule F) as proof of farm experience.  The new language: 

The applicant may document this experience through FSA farm records or similar

 The real test of the new rules will be their application at local FSA offices, but we are very encouraged by FSA’s changes. NYFC is still advocating for new small loans and a reduced farm experience requirement (from 3 years to 2 years), as included in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011. 

If you have experiences with FSA that you’d like to share, please consider signing up for NYFC’s new speaker’s bureau.
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