Smarter Farmers, Smarter Lenders: Educating Toward a Sustainable Community

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2003: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Carolyn van Schaik
Land Stewardship Project

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, networking, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The desire for smarter and greater access to credit by sustainable farmers fuels a continued interest in practical responses to what a series of recent surveys suggests are windows of opportunities. Sustainable farmers who say they are at least as profitable as conventional peers but don’t have the records to prove it need to learn how to write business plans. Lenders who indicate an overwhelming interest in sustainable farming credit but are viewed as closed-minded by farmers need exposure to those farmers in their own places. Educators – Extension and Farm Business Management instructors, for example – who report good working relationships with sustainable farmers and lenders but are not viewed as resource people, could be with some encouragement. Building largely on the statistics of three targeted surveys to educators, lenders, and sustainable farmers (LNC00-200) as well as eight years of Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program, this proposal is a concrete response to the credit-related needs of farmers. In the wake of the analyses, anecdotes and informal conversations have continued to fuel the topic, but it was the almost 600 survey respondents who best quantified their own needs. Accordingly, principle activities include business plan training for farmers and their regional educators, credit liaison training for educators and experienced sustainable farmers to serve their farmer peers, and one-on-one financial planning with people who understand sustainable farming as well as the legitimate needs of agriculture lenders. We also propose a series of field days to give lenders and educators requested exposure to sustainable enterprises, a facilitated review of the several ways in which lenders and farmers plan for profitability, and a quick peek into Whole Farm Planning. The project has been designed with considerable input by Extension Service, Farm Business Management instructors, lenders from several institutions including independent banks and the Farm Service Agency, Farm Beginning graduates and trainers, and several others who played a critical role in the design and execution of the surveys. Principle audiences are Farm Beginnings students, Extension educators, Farm Business Management instructors and regional directors, and agriculture lenders. Some partners stem from the survey work, with the added connections of the Farm Beginnings program and its national exposure as a training model for new farmers. We will hire credit liaison, business plan writing, and Whole Farm Planning trainers, and also make full use of experienced farmer-educators. We’ve shaped activities to allow for a lot of interaction between these groups, and for a high degree of hands-on and face-to-face learning. In answer to economic pressures, we have proposed paying mileage for just about everyone. Long-term goals address credit issues such as the make-up of bank portfolios, access to a viable database reflecting sustainable agriculture enterprises, written business plans by farmers, and better financed, better managed farms as a result. In the short run, we’ll use pre- and exit interviews, event evaluations, and on-going monitoring of trainee activity to determine whether we’re “walking people into a wall”, as one trainer warned, or producing bank-friendly records and financed sustainable agriculture. Numbers and demographics of participants, their actual outputs (business plans, completed training or course, etc.) the overall “feel” of each event, and summaries of all discussions will be recorded and reviewed as part of the evaluation.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Short-Term Outcomes:
    Awareness – Sustainable farming and marketing endeavors are more widely recognized.
    Knowledge – Lenders and educators learn about specific farming/marketing practices; Lenders, educators, and sustainable farmers learn where to find benchmark data; Farmers acquire applicable record-keeping skills.
    Attitudes – Lenders and educators view sustainable farmers as potential clients; Farmers recognize that a good business plan can overcome philosophical biases.

    Intermediate Outcomes:
    Up to 30 pairs of sustainable farmers/educators complete farm business management training; 5 Farm Beginnings participants write business plans fit for the bank; 10 credit liaisons are busy at work; 10 farmers work with credit liaisons; Farm Beginnings, Extension, and FBMP materials better reflect a merge of Whole Farm Planning mindset with lender-friendly number needs; Some lenders recognize the Farm Beginnings program as a qualified business training model.

    Long-Term Outcomes:
    The sustainable farming/marketing community has greater and smarter access to funds; Farm enterprises are better financed and managed because of sound business practices; Bank policies and practices are adjusted to encourage lending by sustainable farmers; Sustainable farming/marketing enterprises enhance local bank portfolios; Data characterizing sustainable agriculture is widely available and referenced; Educators are actively engaged in encouraging sustainable agriculture.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.