By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo
With the prices of land, equipment and inputs all seeing record highs in recent years, young farmers trying to get started need all the financial tools they can get to set the stage for viable operations moving forward.
The Growing Forward program offered by Farm Credit Mid-America (FCMA) has been helping young farmers tackle the daunting financial obstacles of entering agriculture since 2014. To participate in the program, Growing Forward participants must be 35 years old or younger with less than 10 years of farming experience. They must complete a business plan and application.
“We developed this program because we know that getting into agriculture is difficult. It’s capital intensive. We wanted to provide a way for young people to get started within agriculture and it’s kind of grown from there,” said Hilary Poulson, FCMA Growing Forward specialist. “We’ve discovered over the years that what customers really need is an educational component for knowing their finances, so we ask participants of the Growing Forward program to complete a business plan, which is a development opportunity for them to establish a road map for the next few years. It allows them to monitor their progress, lay out operational milestones and hold themselves accountable. We also ask them to submit yearly financials to FCMA for review each year. This allows our team to help Growing Forward customers analyze their operation’s performance year-over-year and make sound management decisions based on their own financial information and ensure that they’re trending toward the goals they set.”
The process put in place through the Growing Forward program helps facilitate success.
“It’s really rewarding to work through the plan with our customers,” said Scott LaGuire, Regional Vice President of Agricultural Lending. “I can help them secure capital to buy their first farm or put an operating loan in place to put up a contract barn or a cattle barn and see that operation grow. When we break out their financials there are really a lot of ‘aha’ moments that come along with that and we think that sets them up for future success.”
In addition to the dollars and cents of it all, FCMA also wants to help young farmers build a professional network that provides support through relationships with other young agricultural professionals, Poulson said.
“We really want to empower our customers, so we ask them to attend a Know to Grow Conference. This is a two-day workshop that we offer in each of the states that we serve. At this event, attendees learn how to accurately assess the financial strengths and weaknesses of their operation and work toward improving their farm’s profitability and financial performance,” she said. “Attendees get the chance to engage with other young and beginning farmers as well as FCMA team members. Hotel, food and activity costs for the conference are all covered by FCMA. We will actually sit customers with others who are doing the same type of operation or commodity so they can build those networks. I really enjoy this program. It’s grown quite a bit and it’s evolved into more than just Know to Grow. We also offer Grow to Thrive that offers customers a little bit more information into what their finances look like. It is another stepping-stone within the program.”
Another component to the program is the self-nominated Forward Thinker Award.
“It’s designed to recognize and showcase the extraordinary efforts of young and beginning farmers in our service area,” Poulson said. “Applicants for this award are judged on their leadership involvement goals and how they implement unique practices to drive their operation forward. The Forward Thinker Award recipient receives $5,000 and the opportunity to be recognized at one of our Know to Grow conferences the following year. Applications for that award are open now through Sept. 1 of 2023.”
To learn more about Growing Forward, visit FCMA.com/growing-forward or call your local retail office.