From a young age, Brooks VanDyke knew he wanted to join his family’s cattle operation near Elkton, S.D. after high school. A part of a small cow-calf operation, VanDyke knew he would need to expand the business to be a part of it. He started thinking about his options in getting financing to help him reach his goals. VanDyke turned to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), where he quickly qualified for the monetary support he needed to get on his feet in the cattle business.

“My first loan with FSA was in 2001, a year after I finished high school,” said VanDyke, who used the money to buy 12 purebred Charolais females of his own. “A loan officer came out to the farm to talk about my ideas, take a look at the facilities and see what was possible. With FSA, no idea is a bad idea, and they gave me a chance to gain independence and pride in purchasing my own heifers for the first time.”

Beginning farmer and rancher loans

For many young people, the idea of getting back into farming and ranching is a daunting one, filled with questions, doubts and uncertainties, but USDA FSA offers a Loans for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program. This program offers agriculture loans at low interest rates and extended repayment terms and individualized financial planning. Loans are given to purchase or make improvements on farm real estate, develop land to promote soil and water conservation, pay operating expenses or invest in machinery and breeding stock.

“The first step is to contact your county FSA office and have a loan officer visit your operation,” said Gail Gullickson, Brookings County Farm Loan Officer and State Outreach Coordinator. “We like to see the big picture and discuss plans for the business. Come with your ideas, plans and goals in mind. We finance for producer success, not for our own profit.”

For many young farmers, securing an FSA loan gives them the opportunity to reach for their dreams at a stage in life where financial support from a regular loan service is nearly impossible to attain. The low interest rates, reasonable terms and face time with local officers set this program apart from other loan programs.

“Each year, we target a portion of funds to be received by beginning farmer applicants,” said Gullickson. “Young farmers and ranchers aren’t competing against established operators to secure credit. These loans are earmarked specifically for beginners and the socially disadvantaged.”

FSA may be able to loan 100 percent of the money needed for a particular project and usually do not require a co-signer or down payment. Because they are often dealing with young people who are also juggling school loans and operating loans, they work to establish a payment plan that isn’t too overwhelming. In addition, FSA will team up with banks in participation loans.

Facing the challenges of production agriculture head-on

“It is a challenging time in production agriculture, especially for young people, because of the price volatility,” said Gullickson. “We feel this is a chance for these young people to get started. It makes multi-generational operations possible. We want to help these young farmers and ranchers make their dreams come true. We want to be a starting point for these individuals.”

Another option is the down payment program, which helps beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to purchase real estate. This program requires a small down payment and allows FSA to partner with a commercial lender for the remaining credit needs.

To find the listings of FSA offices or for more information on loan programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, visit the FSA website, www.fsa.usda.gov. FSA offices can also be found in the telephone directory under “U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
Dreams become reality
For VanDyke, his FSA loan was a great opportunity to get started in the business he loves. Today, VanDyke has expanded his cowherd to 75 head and 300 acres of farmland and pastures. His purebred Charolais operation is gaining recognition, as well. VanDyke exhibits his bulls at the Watertown Winter Farm Show and the Sioux Empire Farm Show to help market his genetics.

“The program is easy to work with,” said VanDyke. “They give you a chance, no matter what. If you are denied credit somewhere else, you still have the opportunity to chase your dreams with FSA. If the opportunity to get into production agriculture comes along, you have to jump at it. This program gave me my start.”