— Practical Farmers of Iowa has received a sizeable gift to its Savings Incentive Program. This summer, the board of directors of the Iowa non-profit Ag Connect voted to donate about $60,000 to the program, which seeks to help the next generation of Iowa farmers develop successful businesses through mentorship, business planning support and the opportunity to save money and earn matching funds. The Ag Connect support will allow Practical Farmers to provide savings matches to an additional 24 beginning farmers.
“PFI is a good organization,” says Paul Jones, a lawyer from Clarinda who serves on the Ag Connect board of directors and also raises cattle with family near Bedford. “We had these funds left and Practical Farmers seemed to have the same kind of philosophy and practice – helping and encouraging small family farmers – that Ag Connect was all about in the first place.”
Ag Connect originally received the funds from Heifer International to offer beginning farmers no-interest livestock loans. Bill Beaman, director of Ag Connect and a fellow board member, says the group was able to take the money, loan it all out and receive repayment, and then “re-loan almost the entire amount a second time.” Over the past nine years, the program successfully helped beginning farmers in six Iowa counties get started raising everything from cattle and sheep to goats and honeybees.
A few years ago, however, Bill says the 10-member Ag Connect board started to feel the livestock loan program had run its course. “It was getting harder to find those to give the loans to. Interest rates have dived and the Farm Service Agency has become a lot more progressive. We were proud to hang our hat on this. Now by passing the money off to Practical Farmers, it’s our hope that this original grant can be recycled yet a third time.”
Donna Bauer, who serves on Practical Farmers’ Savings Incentive Program committee and farms with her husband near Audubon, says the infusion of money to the program comes at a time when beginning farmers face ever more challenges. “There are several reasons why SIP is vital to beginning farmers. Most importantly, young farmers – like any entrepreneur – have difficulty getting that first loan without a proven record of profit. Most every business person needs help with that first step and that is what PFI is able to do with the Savings Incentive Program.”
Ag Connect was originally created in 2000 to make connections between retiring farmers and new farmers. After a few years, Paul says that part of the organization’s work started to “run its course.” Around the same time, however, he says the group got the grant from Heifer International and transitioned into the livestock loan business. Paul was able to use his expertise as a lawyer to help guide this new focus. With the transfer of those funds to Practical Farmers, Ag Connect will officially end – but Practical Farmers will carry on the Ag Connect tradition of helping Iowa’s beginning farmers.
Beginning and aspiring farmers who want to learn more about the Savings Incentive Program can visit www.practicalfarmers.org. Applications are now being accepted for the next group of enrollees, who will be part of the Class of 2016. Those interested should submit an application by October 3, 2014.