July 2017
Farm & Field

New Farmers Workshop

Students learn the keys to success in farming.


Anthony McCarthy, standing in brown jacket, loan chief for the USDA Farm Service Agency, addressed the students on the agency’s assets and the number of loans granted. Over 50 percent of recent loans were awarded to minorities.

Students at a recent Alabama A&M workshop for new farmers learned more than a dozen keys to success in farming. Tips such as choosing something you love to work at and persevering, keeping good records and capitalizing on those things you can control were presented.

As moderator for the workshop, E’licia Chaverest, who is assistant director of the Small Farms Research Center at Alabama A&M University, presented the steps for success.

"Do your homework on requirements and regulations … for entering certain markets," she told the group. "Follow demand-driven production. … Stay involved and keep informed. You need to change with emerging trends."

Presentations at the two-day workshop in May started with a basic discussion on personal budgeting. Dorothy Brandon, who works for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said she likes to use the words "spending plan" in place of the word "budget" that often has a negative connotation. A spending plan should include goals, wants, needs and values.

Smart financial goals have a time frame, she told the group. One example, "I will save $500 for my child’s graduation fees within the next six months."

Brandon gave an overview of such basic information as having an emergency fund to cover three to six months of routine expenses and the maximum percentages of each month’s spending plan to use on housing and transportation.

The next presenter, Robert Page, discussed simple business plans. For 10 years, he’s been an auditor for large, commercial farmers, including those who raise and sell poultry.

He presented three exercises to see if participants really knew where they were financially.

He told them that there’s nothing wrong with pencil-and-paper calculations when you’re starting a small business.

Farmers experience a lot of pressure. Poultry producers, for example, must know there’s a 15-degree range where temperatures have to stay or they may lose 2,000-3,000 birds. All poultry farmers need a backup electrical system.

Every farmer of a certain size should have a line of credit from a bank in the form of a 12-month operating loan.

"If you’ve inherited 10-15 acres of land," he said, "don’t quit your day job."

E’licia Chaverest, front left, assistant director of the Small Farms Research Center at Alabama A&M University, was the moderator for the Risk Management and Financial Literacy Workshop. Twelve students participated in the workshop. 


As an example, he discussed livestock farming, saying that "the livestock industry in Alabama is being run largely by part-time farmers – people with second jobs."

In a later presentation, Page led a hands-on class in the computer lab on QuickBooks.

"QuickBooks is the most popular business software in the country," he said.

It’s a computerized checkbook. The cost to buy QuickBooks Pro at a chain, business-supply store is about $175.

Norm Davis, the first of three lenders speaking to the group, discussed TruFunds Financial Services in Birmingham where he is vice president and managing director. One aim of the company is to increase the number of successful minority- and women-owned businesses.

Ralph Stewart of Alabama Farm Credit said the agency is a locally owned farmers cooperative serving 27 North Alabama counties, with headquarters in Cullman. Loan decisions are made locally for small farmers, beginning farmers in business 10 years or less, and farmers ages 35 years old and younger. Stewart grew up in agriculture and worked in the middle 1990s as a University of Tennessee Extension Agent.

Alabama Farm Credit offers a variety of lending terms – operating loans for 12-18 months, revolving, intermediate and home loans, and farm and construction loans.

Anthony McCarthy spoke for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Over 50 percent of their loans go to minorities and the goal of receiving loans from the agency is to graduate. Their goal is for you to (eventually) be able to get loans from commercial lenders.

When visiting the agency’s office, it’s better if you come in as a distressed borrower than a delinquent borrower.

LaTricia Shobert, of Partnership for Families, Children and Adults in Chattanooga, talked about credit worthiness. She outlined some tips about credit reporting, including names of the credit reporting bureaus, using www.annualcreditreport.com to check reports three times a year and how to earn an optimum credit score.

Chaverest said marketing for the beginning farmer encompasses a variety of strategies. It includes everything from word of mouth and local connections to farmers markets and roadside markets. In small communities such as Tuskegee and Selma, newspaper ads can be effective. Focusing on value-added agriculture and using social media such as Facebook and websites are important.

Thinking outside the box, she said, is paramount.


Maureen Drost is a freelance writer who lives in Huntsville and is a retired newspaper journalist.