Resource rodeo reaches farmers
by Emily M. Hobbs Staff Writer
Rural veteran farmers in Sampson County were provided an excellent resource rodeo Monday night, giving them a chance to learn, grow, and plant seeds for their future. The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) made certain that local farmers were able to have access to resources that serve the area. The Resource Rodeo was held at the Coharie Tribal Center and was a chance for innovative farmers to glean information from a variety of sources gathered in one central location. An estimated 35 people were there, including veteran farmers and resource providers.
Twelve resource providers presented the group with information regarding financial decisions, maintaining the medical health of farmers, resources for farmers with disabilities and much more.
Scott Marlow, executive director of RAFI-USA, explained some of the credit concerns that farmers face every day and what some of the options are to combat these problems, such as foreclosure and the inability to get a loan to help with expenses.
“I would rather work with someone on the front end instead of the back end,” said Marlow. He said he wants farmers to seek out services and assistance before things spiral out of control and beyond the ability to cope. Marlow explained that credit is like dynamite and that credit, no matter in what form, is considered a risk. He said that it is important for farmers to focus on the big picture of the entire situation.
“It’s not just how much you can make versus how much you can lose,” he said.
Marlow explained that around 80 percent of the cases he sees facing foreclosure are because of health care and insurance problems. He explained that a medical problem doesn’t always have to be something terrible, but if a farmer has to hire someone to take their place to run their farm for a few months it can potentially interfere with their financial stability. Yet another source of concern for farmers is the level of cross term debt that some incur. If a farmer finds themselves using their credit card to pay their mortgage or their mortgage to pay their credit card it is not a good situation to be in.
Cape Fear Farm Credit and the Farm Service Agency were on hand to act as resources for financial guidance to help farmers. Sharon Smith, a loan officer with Cape Fear Farm Credit, explained a few of the items a potential client would need to know before seeking financial assistance, some of which will be determined in the office. Eligibility is an issue that is broken down by discerning if someone owns agricultural property and what it is that the farmer is trying to accomplish, be it a rural home loan, new equipment, upgrading of facilities, or building hog or chicken houses as examples. There would also have to be a financial picture of balances, a business plan, income verification, and projections of yield.
“The business plan doesn’t have to be something complicated,” Smith said. Her office stands ready to help farmers figure out what is needed.
Jennifer Campbell, a farm loan officer with the USDA, is also interested in assisting farmers with determining loan needs and direction. She explained that there were a variety of products offered throughout the United States Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency including direct and annual loans. These loans could be used for buying seeds and equipment as well. The FSA is also one of the few programs that offer micro-loans to farmers, particularly ones in a niche market. Farmers seeking a micro-loan are not eligible if they have other loans outstanding with the FSA.
“We are very hands on and will help with your paperwork,” she said.
So what does all of this mean for someone just deciding they want to start farming? Marlow also explained that it was important for someone who was interested in farming and didn’t already actively farm to do their research. Figuring out not only what you want to sell, but who will buy it and where it will be going are all necessary components of making a life as a farmer. Figuring out what you can’t already get locally allowed a new farmer to find a better niche for both the market and timing of the production. He said there was a great difference between someone who was willing to run a hog farm versus growing produce. The hog farmer might not have the chance to go out for a weekend getaway or go fishing with his buddies, but the farmer growing corn would often have a different schedule that perhaps was more flexible.
The Natural Resources Conservation Services explained the conservation efforts and how they are impacted by government grants. Renee Leech, with the NRC, explained that they are ready to discuss any farmer’s concerns about their resources and help with services like nutrient management. The conservation plan comes first and the money comes second; however, it is extremely desirable to put the relationship with the provider and the recipient first. The high tunnel cost share program is excellent because the high tunnel will become part of the assets of the farm.
Keith Baldwin is the Farm Services coordinator with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. His goal is to assist farmers with sustainable organic agriculture the writing of activity plans for the switch from traditional farming to organic farming.
“We help them make that transition,” said Baldwin. He helps create an organic system plan and assists farmers with implementing the necessary steps to getting the farms changed over into organic production.
“The NRCS will also help pay to have one written,” explained Baldwin. There is a financial incentive to having one completed, plus it helps the farmers identify proper equipment practices. The CFSA is also involved in helping farmers establish Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and works with farmers by performing mock GAP audits to assist with compliance.
The Land Loss and Prevention Program in Durham is also available a resource for legal issues regarding liability, foreclosures, and other issues that may arise in the industry. Eric Mine, their Staff Attorney, explained that his office was ready to work on establishing partnerships, LLCs, cooperatives, or sole proprietorships as the needs of the farmers direct. He also stated that they are willing to help with foreclosure prevention and encourages farmers to contact them. His office is ready to go to court for foreclosures.
“We prefer that farmers come in on the front end,” stated Mine.
The NC Agromedicine Institute partnership between ECU, NC A&T, and NC State is also an excellent resource for focusing on the health of the farmer. Michelle Proctor, who is a Project Coordinator with the The NC AgriAbility Partnership, discussed the health and safety of the farmers. Her office also focuses on forestry and fishing industries in the state. One of their goals is to provide direct services and resources to farmers to help with disabilities by both preventing secondary disabilities and accommodate existing ones.
The evening was a great success for not only the veteran farmers but also the resource providers as well. Everyone had a chance to discuss their concerns and link up with one another to form alliances that will benefit everyone in the rural farming community as a whole. Joe Schroder with RAFI was the coordinator for this event. For more information about the event see www.rafiusa.org
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