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Building this farm, growing my dream – part 1

Previous post // The Biggest Risk

Applying for assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been the heartbeat behind our dairy dreams. In 2007 we began the paperwork to start our dairy business and a few times over the years it has continued as we have relocated, made improvements, purchased more cattle and built new structures. Without the FSA our farm wouldn’t be here, during these low and unfortunate milk prices the FSA has allowed us to continue business.

FSA loans are…

Well, the loans from the FSA are…

The Farm Service Agency and their beginning farmers loans can be exhausting. Every office and every loan officer is different, so my experiences will not reflect the experience of others perfectly but I have decided to document this journey as I apply for my loan to grow my dream of processing and bottling my own milk.

FB_IMG_1531860623949We began speaking with our State Inspector in April 2017, beginning with basic how-to’s and requirements of building and equipment. During this time we also contacted creameries in our state and between long conversations and on farm tours were able to gain first-hand knowledge of what the process would entail and the end result we could expect. There have been so many moments where I have felt completely lost, on-farm processing is not incredibly common in Michigan. I’ve gotten very comfortable with asking questions I know nothing about and trying to absorb every detail. I have spoken to equipment dealers, I have a rough draft of my building, I have discussed quality and health guidelines with my inspectors, and I feel confident that I am less than 75% prepared for this journey – this, it’s not that I’m trying not to be prepared, it’s because nobody can tell me how to do this. Like anything in agriculture it’s specific to each farm and their location, and their personality.  Sometimes I have felt like I am stuck at the drawing board, erasing and tweaking different parts to the model that isn’t even tangible yet.

In October of 2017 I contacted my local Farm Service Agency and discuss my goals so that a loan application could be created for me. I began filling out the paperwork; my reason for loan assistance, three year financial history, tax returns for the last three years, authorization to release information, list of creditors, my experience in the industry, etc.

Find a comfortable place to sit, have the previous three year’s tax information handy and bust out the calculator and crystal ball. Providing time, examples, and a lot of realistic strategizing can give you the groundwork to begin your application. BEGIN. You can also get assistance for any part of the application process by contacting your FSA office and requesting more guidance on what information they are asking for, sometimes you can print reports from your PC farm financing program in exchange for rewriting all the information.

Within 10 calendar days from the date the FSA receives your application they will issue you a letter of complete or incomplete status.  An incomplete application cannot be processed; you will need to submit the required information quickly for your loan to move forward. I’ve always received at least two letters of incomplete application, don’t get discouraged.

1511406482092Once your application is complete there may be some down time, hold steady.  You’ve just authorized the government to access your history and credit report, they will contact local businesses and so forth. Do not make large purchases that could damage the chances of your loan being approved.

Here is where I got impatient. If you continue to have an incomplete application, eventually time runs out. In December 2017 I knew I was running out of time – I was frustrated, and I canceled my application.

I was disappointed because I had assumed that my research was sufficient, but to the loan officer looking at a project he wasn’t familiar with – there were so. many. questions.

I was disappointed because I had researched the possible grant opportunities and hit a dead end with my loan office. In hindsight, I was eligible to apply for the grant but my FSA was not educated about the requirements and therefore told me not to use my time on it. When I did connect with the right department and people it was too late to get a good application submitted – I winged together an application for the Value-Added Producers Grant but didn’t have the funds to match 50% of my asking amount. Time was completely against me and all I can take away from the Grant process is the learning opportunity.

THEN I prayed.

In January 2018 I was starting over with my dream.

Next post // Growing My Dream – Part 2

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