For veterinary students, there’s no better time to think about starting up their own practice than while they’re still in college. Prior to graduation, students should make a list of communities where they would want to practice, develop a business plan and take it to different bankers in the community.

“That banker is going to start hustling to get you to come to his community,” Bruning says. “Find a banker with some tie to ag. Instead of just looking at rates—the best deal—ask how he could  help you get started in the community.”

One of the first financial challenges new graduates face is the mountain of debt acquired before their first post-graduate paycheck is cashed, and the burden is only increasing. In 2011, the average debt just from veterinary education loans was $118,772 according to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

This is a trend across agribusinesses as well as production agriculture, says Kendal Kay, President and CEO of Stockgrowers State Bank in Ashland, KS.

“Student loans are high and growing all the time,” Kay says. “Small business owners should take it into account in their global cash flow and projections. When they have extra cash flow, look for opportunities to pay that debt down. But, you always need to keep a cushion and save money for situations like now with the drought. Part of that cushion may be to pay ahead on your debt.”

New graduates may not be able to build a cushion immediately, Kay cautions. The last few years of drought reduced cattle herds significantly and affected businesses across Main Street. More mature business learned the lessons of similar hard times. In this environment, joining an established practice may be a more reasonable goal than a brand-new start.

Joining an established practice that is willing to transition the ownership over a period of time can help all parties. New veterinarians can learn the business, establish themselves financially so both customers and lenders can grow to trust the new partner.

“We’ve seen that in several places around here, in southwest Kansas, where the veterinarian is in his 60s or older,” says Bill Neier, Senior Vice President at Stockgrowers State Bank. “When you have a feel of ownership, it makes all the daily business decisions easier. When times are tough, it exposes weakness faster. We are blessed with a lot of mature business. They’ve learned from their past experiences. We, as a bank, have to step up and work through the tough times just as they work through the good times.”

With personal roots in southwestern Kansas and the livestock industry, Kay and Neier note from their own experience that sweat equity is going to be required for any type of small business owner—but especially in agriculture.

“Production agriculture, when it’s in your blood, it’s hard to get away from that,” Kay says. “You can do very well, you just have to put in a lot of time and energy and sweat equity. Being on-call every weekend, that’s what it takes to start a small business.”