AgriLife Extension helping spread word on new USDA micro-loan program

Program may benefit small-scale urban farmers, ranchers

AUSTIN— The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency are working together to inform Central Texas urban farmers about the new USDA micro-loan program.

A joint workshop will be presented from 10 a.m.-noon March 5 at Travis County’s East Service Center, located at 6011 Blue Bluff Road in Austin.
Coordinators said the new USDA micro-loan program was designed with small-scale producers in mind and may be an excellent fit for urban farmers needing capital to launch or expand their operations.

Small-scale farmers and ranchers can benefit from an informational USDA micro-loan workshop to be presented in Austin by AgriLife Extension for Travis County and the local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency office. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Small-scale urban farmers and ranchers can benefit from an informational workshop on  the new U.S.Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency’s Operating Loan Program. The workshop is being presented in Austin on March 5 by AgriLife Extension for Travis County and the local USDA Farm Service Agency office. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

The program, known as the Operating Loan Program, is administered through its Farm Service Agency and provides various credit options and solutions for small agricultural producers, according to USDA officials. It also provides a simplified loan application process for beginning farmers and ranchers, and may provide financing for farmers wanting to grow “niche crops” to sell to ethnic markets or farmers markets.

“Last fall, beginning urban farmers came from 11 Central Texas counties to AgriLife Extension’s three-week Strong Starts: Urban Farming 101 series,” said Daphne Richards, AgriLife Extension agent for horticulture in Travis County.  “Agency specialists traveled from across the state to teach everything from farm business planning and budgeting to crop selection and cultivation strategies.”

Richards said the series included presentations from county and state officials involved in food system policy development and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“At that program, USDA Farm Service Agency loan manager Terri Trevino was among the presenters. She informed beginning urban farmers about USDA’s financing options and began initial development of funder/farmer relationships.

“Feedback was overwhelmingly positive from both the farmer participants and presenters, so when the USDA initiated this micro-loan program a month ago, Terri contacted us to see if our agency could help get the word out about its urban farming program and the Strong Starts initiative.”

Richards said AgriLife Extension coordinated with the local Farm Service Agency office to help make Trevino’s presentation on micro-loans available to the entire Central Texas farming community, so they decided on a larger venue for an inexpensive “stand-alone” workshop.

Farmers and ranchers may apply for a maximum of $35,000 to be used toward initial start-up expenses, USDA officials explained. And as their needs increase, they may apply for an additional operating loan of up to $300,000 — or seek commercial-lender financing from an institution within its Guaranteed Loan Program.

Officials said farm loans can be used for a variety of purposes, including buying land, equipment, livestock, seed, feed and supplies, or for building construction or farm improvements.

“At this event, AgriLife Extension in Travis County also hopes to survey participants about their informational and educational needs, so that we may support their continued growth and success as urban farmers,” Richards noted.

The workshop cost is $15, and those interested may register online at the AgriLife Extension Conference Services website, http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu.    Enter “loan” in the keyword search field or “Austin” in the location field.

Producers interested in applying for a micro-loan should contact their local Farm Service Agency office. For more information about the March 5 workshop, contact Trevino at Terri.Trevino@tx.usda.gov.

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