AgSouth Farm Credit was looking for a way to help farmers. It was already assisting lending to young, beginning, small and minority farmers, but Van McCall and Christy Smith wanted to increase the association’s initiatives and farmers’ awareness of what was available to them.
“We found that not only did we need to let this group know there was available credit for them but that there was a need for supporting education on the financial elements of farming,” says Christy Smith, director of marketing for AgSouth Farm Credit. “We found that even multigenerational farmers have lots of experience and knowledge on the production side of farming but have had very little with the financial side.”
With that desire to help educate Georgia’s farming community, Farm Credit created the AGAware program.
“Our primary goal is to promote and educate the next generation of farmers,” Smith says.
AGAware focuses on helping farmers develop good business plans for their farms and educates growers on the potential loans and opportunities for funding through a series of workshops on business planning, marketing, and Farm Services Agency and Small Business Administration programs.
More than 500 farmers within AgSouth Farm Credit’s service reach are assisted through the AGAware program. The program has now expanded into AgSouth’s sister associations, AgGeorgia and ArborOne, to reach nearly 700 farmers in Georgia and South Carolina since 2012. The program was awarded the Farm Credit National Phelps-Martin Award for Community Service.
AgSouth has also joined forces with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, UGA Small Business Development Center, Georgia Organics, Fort Valley State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture among others to expand these training services to reach more limited- means and minority farmers.
“To assure a continued sound agriculture industry in our nation, it is essential that we provide financial literacy and risk-management training for the next generation of farmers,” says Van McCall, director of the AGAware program for AgSouth.
Training this next generation will help secure the future of the industry.
“There are so many elements to farming that it can be somewhat overwhelming to approach it as a newcomer or even as a second- or third-generation farmer who has possibly only handled one division of the operation,” Smith says.
Professional development programs like AGAware pull together resources and experts to provide the training and information to those who truly need it. Experts from AgSouth Farm Credit, the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and many others attend the program workshops to train farmers on topics including balance sheets, income statements, family finance and family budgeting, risk management, accrual income, applying for financing, preparing a business plan, technology and record keeping, and marketing assistance.
These development programs help prepare individuals to get started in agriculture or to grow or strengthen their current operation.
“Increasing the number of farmers in our state strengthens our local and state economy by allowing them the tools and knowledge to be more successful producers,” Smith says. “It also allows for more opportunities for others in the community to have readily available sources of healthy, fresh products.”
McCall and Smith hope that AGAware becomes a voice to promote the agriculture industry in Georgia.