New Farmer Toolbox: Capital / Credit / Infrastructure

Please note: this project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program from 2010 to 2013.

New farmers face difficult decisions about where to invest capital and how much to borrow. Many beginning farmers do not understand how to increase their credit-worthiness or how to take advantage of credit that is available to them. Some existing resources on these topics, as well as a creative North Carolina Piedmont project providing shared infrastructure needs to a number of farmers, are listed below.

This section includes loan and grant opportunities. General publications relevant to the topic are listed at the end of the section.

Financing assistance for beginning farmers

(listed alphabetically)

Farm Service Agency (FSA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides direct and guaranteed loans to beginning farmers and ranchers who are unable to obtain financing from commercial credit sources.

A beginning farmer or rancher is an individual or entity who: (1) has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years;  (2) meets the loan eligibility requirements of the program to which he/she is applying; (3) substantially participates in the operation; and, (4) for farm ownership loan purposes, does not own a farm greater than 30 percent of the average size farm in the county.  All applicants for direct farm ownership loans must have participated in business operation of a farm for at least 3 years.  If the applicant is an entity, all members must be related by blood or marriage, and all stockholders in a corporation must be eligible beginning farmers. (315-477-6300)
North Carolina Office
Your Guide to FSA Farm Loans

Farmer Veteran Coalition Fellowship Fund
“Mobilizing Veterans to Feed America”

Mountain Bizworks(Western NC)
Through lending, consulting and training, Mountain BizWorks helps smaller businesses grow, and larger businesses thrive.  Provide a continuum of services to help businesses in Western North Carolina grow from pre-launch ideas to durable businesses that create permanent, family-wage jobs.

Natural Capital Investment Fund(statewide)
Loans up to $250,000. Sustainable agriculture and value-added foods are a strong focus for this fund. Interest rates and  terms depend on a range of factors including borrower credit strength, collateral and use of funds. Loans can be for working capital, real estate, and equipment. NCIF often partners with other lenders; the Fund  is able to offer riskier “patient capital” that enables traditional lenders to meet their collateral requirements.

NC Cooperative Extension component of the Plants for Human Health Institute
North Carolina Value-Added Cost Share Program
“In 2013, the North Carolina Value-Added Cost Share Program (NCVACS) will offset the costs to N.C. value-added producer groups for equipment purchases that are directly related to the processing, packaging, handling and production of value-added agricultural products made with N.C.-grown agricultural crops.
NCVACS is funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission and administered by the N.C. Cooperative Extension component of the Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.”

North Carolina Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
EQIP and other Cost Share programs
EQIP is one of several cost share programs offered by the NRCS. EQIP offers contracts that provide incentive payments and cost-shares to implement conservation practices.  Persons who are engaged in livestock or agricultural production on eligible land may participate in the EQIP program. A full list of programs, including EQIP can be found here:

Examples of North Carolina Commercial Banks with an agricultural lending department
(Farm Credit – )

North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Inc.
New Generation Initiative: Transforming North Carolina’s rural communities through youth and young adult engagement.
“The North Carolina New Generation Initiative opens exciting new opportunities for rural young people and the communities they live in. Opportunities for young people to become engaged as community leaders … to start businesses … to train for skilled jobs in high-demand fields. Opportunities for communities to learn how to more fully involve youth and young adults in economic and civic life.”

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA)
Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund – “aims to assist farmers and rural communities to develop new sources of agricultural income through provision of cost-share grants.  The program makes awards of up to $10,000 to individual farmers or for collaborative farmer projects in North Carolina.  Grants are awarded on a competitive basis.  You must submit an application in order to be considered for a grant.” Check the website June 2012 to see if they will have the funding for a grant cycle in 2013.

Self-Help Credit Union
Golden Leaf Loan Program
Opportunities for loans to agricultural businesses.

The Shade Fund (statewide)
ShadeFund, a joint project of The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, provides loans up to $50,000 to enterprises that are good stewards of farmland and forestland.   The Fund utilizes both a revolving loan fund and “crowd-funding” to finance small businesses.

Slow Money – North Carolina
They match investors who wish to make low interest loans to local food entrepreneurs – growers, processors, restaurant owners, bakers, and the like – who have compelling needs for capital to fund their local food projects.

USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA)
RMA has many resources on their website geared toward assisting producers ‘manage their business risks through effective, market-based risk management solutions.’

USDA Rural Development
Offers some funding opportunities for beginning farmers. Check the website for an office in your area.

Western North Carolina Ag Options Grant (western NC)
WNC AgOptions builds sustainable farming communities in our mountain region by providing resources directly to farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations. Funded projects offer demonstration of alternative farm income to transitioning tobacco growers.

National Resources with North Carolina Relevance

California Farm Link
Individual Development Account program
This could be a model for other states in the future.

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
Plain Language Guide to Applying for a Farm Service Agency (FSA) Loan (downloads a .pdf file)

Northeast Beginning Farmers Project
Land Access: Options and Strategies and Farm Financing Alternatives and other useful Webinar topics. The Farm Financing Alternatives webinar explores the idea of the Community Supported Farm looking at community ‘capital’ in more forms than just dollars and cents.  It raises creative ideas as well as some further research and legalities to be aware of when exploring innovative financing strategies.

Vermont New Farmer Project
The Guide to Financing the Community Supported Farm

Start 2 Farm
National Clearinghouse information from the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.

Publications with North Carolina Relevance

ATTRA: the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
Lewis, Hannah. 2011. Financing Your Farm: Guide for Beginning Farmers. ATTRA Publication #IP 420

Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA)
Farmers Guide to Agricultural Credit
Farmer and Lender Project: Strategies to Sustain Agriculture and Enhance Rural Development in North Carolina
Farmers Face Barriers to Credit – Summary of survey of farm credit counselors and advocates.


Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library
Story of a ten-farmer cooperative buying farm tools together for sharing.

This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, grant #2010-49400-21733. To learn more about this program, and to find more resources for beginning farmers, please visit