by George Looby, DVM
There has been a noticeable resurgence recently in the level of support given to new, beginning and young farmers from an increasing number of support groups and agencies. These groups includes federal, state, local and private agencies that have developed a wide variety of programs that encourage and provide direct assistance to this select group who have chosen to pursue careers in some area of agriculture. Included in this group are returning veterans who have served their country so well and now have chosen to hopefully fulfill long held dreams of a career in farming or a closely related field. This special group of citizens deserves the encouragement and support of everyone they left behind while giving up some of the best years of their lives to ensure the rest of us could carry on our own lives without fear.
For some in this group it will be a time to return to the home farm and slide back into a familiar routine. For many others the transition will not be as easy and this group should be assisted in every way possible. There is a wide gap between a dream and reality and for those who have pursued the dream of a career in farming without having dealt with its realities face some serious questions. The good news is there is help available and it is help that is knowledgeable and very familiar with the multiple issues these veterans are dealing with.
Farm Credit East is an institution that is familiar to most farmers in the Northeast, it provides multiple services to the agricultural community and it provides financial support to fund a wide range of activities. In a recent issue of Financial Partner, the house publication sent periodically to Farm Credit East members, a staff member was highlighted. Pete Frizzell is a Farm Credit East employee who, among his other responsibilities, acts as veterans’ liaison for the association. Pete has the credentials to make him well qualified for such a role. Pete served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and infantryman finishing his career as a Staff Sergeant. Following active duty he enlisted in the CT National Guard serving as a squad leader with the 29th Infantry Division that was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom VII. Pete has walked the walk and can relate in a very personal way with returning veterans in their search for answers to questions they may have as they ponder a major shift in careers.
Farm Credit East is committed to assisting veterans in obtaining the resources they need to get started in agriculture. In the first quarter of this year Farm Credit East will partner with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to host a farmer veteran workshop to cover business planning for a startup businesses and to provide networking opportunities for these new farmers. Among Farm Credit East’s menu of available services three programs are targeted at assisting veterans, young, beginning and small farmers and ranchers. The first of which is the Young, Beginning, Small and Veteran Farmer Incentive Program (YBSV) which offers discounts on services, FSA guaranteed loan fees, and may receive interest loan assistance.
A second program entitled FarmStart assists farmers in the early stages of their business when the demand for capital and financial management skills often make it difficult to establish their businesses. This program will invest up to $50,000 in working capital to help beginning farmers become operational. A third program is GenerationNext which is a seminar series designed to ensure that those in the 20 to 35 year old age group are developing their business and management skills in the best possible way to make the transition to the next level of management in as smooth as possible.
In 2007 Michael O’Gorman founded the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). Michael has had a long career in farming and began this program understanding that many veterans, upon returning to civilian life, had a strong hope their life after the military would be devoted to farming. The two missions of this organization are first to help veterans return to rural America and second to help those veterans enter agriculture. FVC has developed a network to connect veterans with employment opportunities in agriculture. When veterans contact FVC staff members their individuals skills and capabilities are carefully assessed and they are then connected to a farm that is a good match for both the veteran and the farm.
The organization has a staff of veterans trained in a number of different specialties to assist those making inquiries about the transition from the military to a career in agriculture.
On Jan.12, 2015 USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced the availability of $18,000,000 in funding to help educate, mentor and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. This support is available through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) administered by the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). BFRDP awards grants to organizations implementing programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers including workshops, educational teams, training, and technical assistance throughout the country.
Eligible applicants for grants are collaborative, state, tribal, local or regional-based network or partnership of public and private entities including state cooperative extension service, community-based and nongovernmental organization, colleges and universities or any other appropriate organization providing services to beginning farmers and ranchers. The section in this of particular interest to returning veterans is that at least five percent ($900,000) of the funds available must go to projects that serve military veteran beginning farmers and ranchers.
Every resource available must be employed to ensure that all returning veterans who have a career in some field of agriculture are made aware of the many resources that are available to them as they work their way through the transition to civilian life. It seems that excellent programs are so often underutilized because the audiences they are designed to assist are unaware of their existence.