WASECA, Minn. ― Regulatory agency executives from the nation’s largest agriculture finance provider traveled to Minnesota and Iowa to expose Washington, DC-based staff to Midwestern agriculture, to learn how the agricultural credit system supports young people, beginners and small farmers and to see how they invest in rural health care.
The Farm Credit Administration — the federal agency that regulates the farm credit system — conducted a Midwest Farm Tour through the two states May 17-18.
The Agricultural Credit System is a national network of credit institutions owned by their borrowers. With assets of more than $428 billion, the FCS is the number one source of financing for American agriculture.
The seven-step tour of FCS-funded projects in Minnesota and Iowa provided agency staff with in-depth experience and knowledge of how FCS lenders support youth, beginners, and small farmers and ranchers as well as rural health care facilities.
Glen Smith, president and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, was on tour with leaders from FCS institutions and Farm Credit Services of America.
The Minnesota leg of the tour began with stops at the Hmong American Farmers Association in Dakota County and Twin Cities Berry Company in Farmington, before the group stopped at Farmamerica, the agricultural interpretation center of Minnesota.
Jessica Rollins, executive director of Farmamerica, said the center has been around since the state founded it in the 1970s. The site, which has a total of 360 acres, has since become a 501(c) organization. (3).
“Our mission is to connect people to the evolving story of agriculture through hands-on educational experiences, partnerships and community engagement,” Rollins said. “And then, in doing that, we seek to find a space where Minnesotans and consumers see agriculture as a solution.”
Rollins said the center is best known for its chronological walking trail where it helps visitors step back in time from the 1800s to the 1930s of agriculture in the state.
“We run excursions, day camps, guided tours, self-guided tours and fun family activities on Saturdays,” Rollins said.
Farmamerica launched an $850,000 fundraising campaign to expand and renovate its existing facilities.
Plans include remodeling the visitor center with interactive exhibits and experiences on the impact of agriculture on daily life, improving classroom space, adding new opportunities for agricultural literacy throughout year round and to provide a safe outdoor play area.
“Part of our rooted and growing fundraising campaign that we’re doing is creating an extra space where people can experience that agriculture is all around them,” Rollins said.
Rollins said it was an honor to be on the Midwest tour stop list
“It’s a great group of people coming in today for lunch at Farmamerica,” Rollins said. “It’s exciting to have them in our space, as many of them have never been to Farmamerica before.”
The second day of the tour took place at stops in Iowa, where Smith was raised on a diverse crop and livestock farm. The FCA CEO and President said the tour had three objectives, the first being to familiarize FCA employees with its mission.
“Many of our employees come from the DC area or other metropolitan areas of the country, and with our service to agriculture, we believe it is very important for them to connect with our mission towards agriculture” , Smith said.
The second objective was to show how FCS lenders are supporting youth, beginners and small-scale farmers and ranchers through loans and related services, Smith said.
“Each of them has their own individual agenda, and we think as a regulator it’s so important that they encourage the advancement and growth of YBS programs,” Smith said. “To showcase them, we’ll be visiting several farms featuring young and beginning farmers.”
The tour’s third goal was achieved on the final stop in Minnesota, which was at the Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center in Fairmont. The center is a senior care facility that provides nursing care for short and long term stays. Smith said FCS institutions, such as Compeer Financial in Minnesota, have the power to invest some of their capital in rural health care facilities.
“They’ve had a great experience in this area,” said Smith of Compeer Financial with the center at Fairmont.
Smith, who was named FCA President and CEO by President Donald Trump in July 2019, has served on the FCA Board of Directors since 2017. He said that even before that he was a firm believer in the work of FCS institutions.
“This year will mark 40 years that my wife and I have been engaged in farming, and we started as beginning farmers in western Iowa, near the Atlantic in Iowa,” Smith told About the family farm, Smith Generation Farms Inc., which has grown to encompass approximately 2,000 acres devoted to corn, soybeans, hay and a small herd of beef cows.
He said over the years he had had ‘numerous’ Farm Credit loans as well as loans through a commercial banker and loans that were part of Farmer Mac – a secondary market for loans agricultural.
“From the start of my appointment, even when I appeared before the Senate Agriculture Committee, I said I believed in alternatives to farmers for funding and competition in funding,” Smith said. “So all of those areas are important.”
Smith said efforts to increase support from FCS institutions for young, beginning, and small farmers have intensified in recent years as the average age of the U.S. farmer continues to rise.
“It was a success, but in any program there are areas for improvement,” Smith said of those efforts.
He said the FCA board had recently passed draft regulations that would take the accountability of FCS institutions to young, entry-level and small-scale farmers “to the next level”.
“We closely track the metrics and the number of young, entry-level and small farmers, and make sure those numbers are accurate,” Smith said of the Farm Credit Act requirements to report annually to Congress. . “Number 1 is getting those exact numbers and number two is promoting best practices.”
He said both of those things were checked during his visit to the Hmong American Farmers Association earlier in the day.
“I was very impressed with that because they took the research, the technology, the funding from the group as a whole and then made it available to individual producers,” Smith said of the model. commercial of HAFA. “So that’s one thing I mentioned, about sharing best practices across the country. Obviously, that’s a great example of how we can help these young entrepreneurs get started.”