Saenz helps South Texas farm loan applications top $90 million
EDINBURG — Applying for a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency is not a quick or easy process. But after almost 20 years of helping South Texas farmers and ranchers with their applications, Vidal Saenz has it down to a science. And he’s got an award to prove it.
Since Saenz started keeping track in 1998, records show he has processed more than 700 loan applications for almost $91 million.
“I started working with farmers in 1994, so the numbers are actually higher than that,” he said. “And we’re having another good year this year.”
With a couple of months still to go, Saenz has helped 65 applicants apply for almost $7 million in loans in 2013. His total for 2012 was 45 applicants and just over $5 million.
Saenz is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county agent and farm adviser in Edinburg. He manages the Small Farm Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Project, administered by Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas.
“I’ve made a lot of friends over the years and helped a lot of people do what they love: farm and ranch,” he said. “And when times get tough, we help people apply for emergency loans that keep them going.”
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In March, Saenz was awarded the Administrator Program Delivery Award from the Cooperative Extension Program at Prairie View A&M.
Saenz was cited for his “community involvement, leadership and financial prudence.”
Once he gets a call from a farmer or rancher in need of financial assistance, Saenz informs them of the basic requirements for getting an FSA loan and emails a checklist of documents he’ll need to help process the loan.
There are two types of loans Saenz mostly works with — operating loans and farm ownership loans.
“The operating loans are used to grow crops, purchase cattle, purchase farm equipment and to refinance agricultural debt,” he said. “The farm ownership loans are mainly used to buy land or construct buildings on their farms.”
Operating loans require that the borrower have at least one year of operating history; farm ownership loans require three years.
“They have to have a fair credit history and be unable to get a loan at a commercial bank,” Saenz said. “Operating loans are paid back in one year, shortly after a crop is harvested. If the loan is used to purchase cows for a cow/calf operation, yearly payments can be made for up to seven years.”
Farm ownership loans to buy land can be paid off in up to 40 years, he said. Operating loans currently carry an interest rate of just over 1.5 percent, while farm ownership loans have an interest rate of between 4.5 and 5 percent.
A new type of loan made available by FSA just this year is called a micro loan, which is often used by organic farmers.
“For a micro loan, you don’t need an operating history, the paperwork is minimal and the interest rate is low, about 1.5 percent,” he said. “To date, 100 percent of micro loans we’ve applied for have been funded. That’s not to say that all will be approved, but so far all of them have been.”
Overall, Saenz estimates that about 65 percent of all loans he has helped with have been approved.
“Farmers and ranchers just need to give me a call at 956-383-1026 and we’ll either set up an appointment in my office in Edinburg, or I can go out to their farm or ranch,” he said.
That helpful attitude is reflected in comments Prairie View A&M administrators made when presenting Saenz his award: “It does not matter if he receives a call from a 4-H youth that needs help with a livestock project, gardeners that need an expert’s advice, a frustrated rancher with a noxious weed problem or a thousand other issues, Saenz is there to help. His guidance and leadership has helped many in his community learn valuable lessons and achieve success.”