Tiny loans for small-time farmers can be big-time help

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 07:51 PM

New and beginning farmers and growers in Caldwell County now have a better chance of competing with the big boys, thanks to a new loan program being offered.

On Jan. 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency began offering customers a "microloan," a type of loan designed to help farmers and producers with credit needs of $35,000 or less. The program streamlines the application process and makes loan approval easier for small producers trying to get their goods to the Farmers Market.

“We have local growers who could use that money,” said Seth Nagy, the county extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Center. “If we can’t feed ourselves, really nothing else matters.”

Getting goods to the market is the main goal for a start-up farm operation, according to Nagy. Securing financing and having a sound business plan is key.

“If I was talking to a farmer interested in getting a loan, I would make sure he or she has a plan for the money and will develop a business plan to pay the money back,” Nagy said.

He said investing in agriculture was a wise move. In North Carolina alone, $74 billion is pumped into the economy thanks to agriculture, the number one industry in the state. He says the loan program is the perfect fit.

“That’s what these microloans are for,” he said. “It’s helping the agriculture industry grow. Developing and strengthening local agriculture will only help our community. I’m for it in general.”

The microloan program is initially being offered in Burke and Caldwell counties. The interest rate is low - 1.25 percent, ideal for a producer in need of capital but on a tight budget. Since 2009, the USDA has provided more than 128,000 loans totalling more than $18 billion to family farmers. More than 50 percent went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

For more information on microloans and other FSA programs, call the Burke-McDowell-Caldwell County USDA service center at 828-439-9727.