The USDA offers a wide variety of loans and programs to help all types of farmers, but figuring out which options are best for you can be overwhelming. That’s where USDA staff members come in – to help you through the process and make sure you access the appropriate options.

Andrea Bye, the beginner farmer coordinator for the New Hampshire FSA, hosted an educational session at the NH Farm, Forest & Garden Expo to help break down the programs offered to farmers.

Bye made sure that the structure of the FSA was understood by the audience. She said, “What’s unique about the Farm Service Agency is that we are locally led by an elected advisory board of farmers” called County Committees. There are currently more than 7,700 committee members that serve on more than 2,200 committees nationwide, and they are a critical component of the operation.

There are also field offices located nationwide which can be found through the Service Center Locator at

It’s important to recognize the three special types of farmers you can potentially identify as: a beginner farmer, a socially disadvantaged or historically underserved farmer and a veteran farmer. A beginner farmer, according to the FSA, is “anybody who has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 cumulative years.” In a joint farm operation, all members must qualify as beginner farmers to hold that title.

The FSA recognizes the following as socially disadvantaged/historically underserved farmers: American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asians, African Americans, Native Hawaiians or any other Pacific Islander, Hispanics and women. In cases of co-ownership, at least 50% of the farm owners must be considered socially disadvantaged/historically underserved for the farm as a whole to hold that title.

Jumpstart your farm business with the FSA

You can be considered a veteran farmer if you are a U.S. military veteran and fit either of the following criteria: qualify as a beginner farmer or you obtained your veteran status within the past 10 years and were not dishonorably discharged.

Although the FSA has programs for everybody, Bye explained, “These subcategories may entitle you to additional incentives,” such as decreased expenses for using programs.

The FSA focuses on providing farm programs and farm loans. One of the FSA’s goals is to make their programs accessible for all growers, which is why they have a wide range of options that they offer. Farm programs include, but are not limited to, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees & Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP), the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), safety net programs, risk management programs, the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, the Emergency Relief Program of 2022 and the Organic Certification Cost Share Program.

Keith Farrell, the NH District Director for USDA-FSA, went into detail about the different types of loans the FSA can offer. A loan less than $50,000 is a low-documentation micro loan. You can get an operating loan between $50,000 and $400,000, or you can get a farm ownership loan for up to $600,000.

The farm ownership loan, Farrell believes, is “particularly helpful” because banks will require a down payment, and he has “seen producers that have come in that need financing and they don’t have any down payment… We can provide up to 100% of the financing of the farm depending on its appraised value.”

The take-home message is that the FSA is here to help any farmer who needs it. Although there are a lot of potential programs and loans to qualify for, “you don’t have to know the details… You just need to know roughly what we offer and how to go about applying,” Farrell assured.

Bye explained in simple terms: “If you have a disaster event at your farm, call your local office. They will know what programs you’re going to be eligible for.”

One great way to stay up to date with the programs offered is by signing up for your local newsletter. Farrell guaranteed that “any program that comes out, you’ll hear about it as soon as we find out about it.”

For more information on the USDA-FSA, visit

by Kelsi Devolve