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Supporting new farmers

Bi-state summit showcases beginning farmers services and programs
Story by: Sarah Geyer 3/22/2019

“You are needed.”

That’s the takeaway Tennessee Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Tom

Womack wanted to leave with attendees of this year’s Tennessee/Kentucky Beginning Farmers Summit. And the deputy commissioner delivered that message pointedly and powerfully by sharing the following statistics:

“Whether you’re producing for the local consumer or the world market, there’s room at the agriculture industry table for anybody willing to be innovative, embrace new technology, and have an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Womack.

Organized by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and the Tennessee Farm Service Agency, the workshop was held Feb. 20 at Battle Mountain Farm in Cottage Grove and served as the precursor event for the annual Pick Tennessee Conference, hosted this year in Franklin Feb. 21-23.

Before introducing the first presenter, Womack stressed the importance of seeking resources and support as new farmers.

“Farming has its risks,” he said. “But you can be successful with the right approach and the right tools, and we have the resources and the people here today who can give you those tools.”

Kevin Ferguson, UT Extension area specialist, kicked off the workshop with a presentation entitled “What to Consider Before Starting a Farm.” He urged the group to develop both short- and long-term plans and to write down their goals, both

professional and personal.

“Ag economist David Kohl has found that successful farmers are those who set goals, who have a business plan, and are good time managers,” said Ferguson, citing the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University researcher. “Kohl also noted that successful farmers had a good work/life balance, maintained detailed records, monitored their bottom line, managed their debt and costs, and lived modestly.”

Ferguson cautioned the new farmers about the profession’s steep learning curve. With the majority of farm failures occurring in the start-up years, he urged the audience to anticipate challenges with patience and perseverance. He concluded his presentation by quoting a participant of an earlier

beginning farmers workshop.

“What he wrote really sums up what I want you to get from today,” says Ferguson. “And that is: ‘Take off your rose-colored glasses, but be realistic on your abilities and the opportunities that are out there.’”

Other presentations included information on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and funding, a session on business planning with Farm Credit Mid-America, and grant writing tips from Kyle Hensley, TDA’s agricultural advancement coordinator. The workshop also included time for participants to talk with representatives from the Tennessee Farmer Veteran Coalition, AgSafe, Tennessee Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers, Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, UT Extension Services, AgrAbility, Center for Profitable Agriculture, and TN Farm Link.

“Grow your network within the ag industry,” Hensley told the workshop participants as he concluded his presentation. “With so many resources in this room, you can really build your connections today. Take advantage of this opportunity.”

During the workshop, participants learned about several key beginning and young farmer services and programs, including opportunities for education, expertise, and funding. They are summarized below.


Tennessee New Farmer Academy is a program offered by the Extension services of Tennessee State University and UTIA. The academy is offered in three locations — Memphis, Nashville, and Wartburg — and is a seven-month certificate program designed for those with an interest in becoming agricultural entrepreneurs. The program focuses on teaching concepts, providing information, and facilitating hands-on experience needed to build solid, viable, and successful agricultural businesses. Ideal candidates for this program include those who are new to agriculture, those who wish to transition into agriculture from another field such as military service or private sector work, or those who looking for a post-retirement opportunity. Scholarships are available.

For more information about the programs, visit, or contact (Nashville) Finis Stribling III at; (Memphis) Jo Anne Waterman at; or (Wartburg) Jenni Goodrich at

Farm Credit Mid-America’s Growing Forward Program is available to farmers who are 35 years old or younger or have less than 10 years of farming experience. The program offers access to capital, relaxed underwriting standards, and financial education to young farmers, while supporting the development of strong financial management and leadership.

For more information, visit

https://www.e- or contact Jonathan Carter, associate vice president of Growing Forward, at


USDA’S Farm Services Agency offers assistance from buying and operating to harvest, with funding designated specifically for beginning farmers or anyone who has not operated a farm for more than 10 years, women, veterans, and minorities.

The FSA offers farm ownership loans up to $600,000 and farm operating loans up to $400,000 with no down payment required, as well as micro-loans up to $50,000 for ownership or operation.

Beginning farmers are also eligible for free insurance for crops that aren’t typically insurable, like fruit, vegetables, or hay.

After harvest, the FSA can help with farm storage through a facility loan program originally designed for grain farmers but expanded by the new Farm Bill to include storage for specialty crops.

Following a natural disaster, the Conservation Program can help repair fences, clean up debris, and fix farm damage. Also, producers may be able to receive compensation on loss of livestock through the Livestock Indemnity Program.

USDA’S Natural Resources Conservation Services provides regional field advisers who make farm visits to offer specific recommendations for farmers. The NRCS also offers cost-share assistance through its Environmental Quality Assistance Program which helps fund on-the-farm conservation projects like fencing and tunnels.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Rural Development, and Food and

Nutrition Service agencies also offer financial assistance to benefit beginning farmers.

Direct and guaranteed housing loans are available for people looking to buy or build a home in a rural area.

Value-added producer grants can help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and/or marketing of new products.

The Rural Energy for America Program provides assistance for rural residents to improve their heating and cooling systems.

The Organic Cost Share Program offers funding for those seeking organic certification.

Farm-to-School Grant Program provides assistance to fruit and vegetable producers looking to work with regional school districts.

For more information about the USDA’s programs for beginning farmers, visit, or contact Amanda Robertson, USDA-FSA beginning farmer regional coordinator, at or 270-579-6247.


Tennessee Department of Agriculture

UT Extension Agencies

Tennessee AgrAbility

Farmer Veteran Coalition of Tennessee

Center for Profitable Agriculture

TN Farm Link (connecting farmers with landowners)

MANAGE (farm business program)

Tennessee Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers


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