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VSU Agribusiness Program Offers Virginia Farmers Cost-Saving Alternative For FSA Loan Qualification

Published date: April 13, 2016

Contact: Michelle Olgers, Marketing & Communications Dept., 804-524-6964, molgers@vsu.edu

VSU becomes first HBCU licensed to teach USDA/FSA Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program

Ettrick, Va. – Until last year, Virginia farmers applying for a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan were required to take an on-line Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program offered by private companies for $300-$600. The program offers valuable financial management and crop production skills aimed at boosting farm profitability and income, but many farmers find it costly and inconvenient to take online.

Three years ago, representatives from FSA and Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, a Virginia Cooperative Extension program, met to discuss a better way to assist Virginia farmers in meeting the mandatory FSA financial and production management borrower training requirements. Both organizations agreed that the current process could use improving.

“Many farmers don’t like the idea of taking online courses, let alone in the evening after putting in a day in the field,” said Mike Wooden, assistant director, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program. “It was hard for them to wrap their minds around balance sheets, cash flow and marketing principles after putting in a full day’s work.”

As a result of that meeting, Virginia State University (VSU) applied to FSA to be a licensed program vendor, or teacher. The University met the criteria and was approved two years ago to administer the course, making it the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to be certified in teaching the FSA’s Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program. In addition, VSU applied for and received from the FSA a three-year grant in the amount of $250,000 to administer the program, which is designed especially for limited resource farmers.

What sets the VSU Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program apart from the previously offered courses is that it is taught in a classroom setting for two days with live, accessible instructors and includes a one-day farm tour, all for the significantly reduced rate of $50. Plus, starting this year participants can receive two continuing education credits if they score 70 percent or higher on the program’s final exam. Participants not seeking continuing education simply need to pass the test in order to receive a certificate of completion that qualifies them to apply for FSA loans.

Class sizes are limited to 20 students. Coursework includes record keeping, accounting, estate planning, budgeting, valuations, cash management, and more. Instructors represent a multidisciplinary staff from VSU’s colleges of agriculture and business, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Farm Credit officials and producers who have had success with our programs.

The program will be offered again this year April 21-22 and June 2-3. There will be more dates announced later in the year for the final year of the program in 2017. More information on the program and upcoming dates can be found at http://www.agriculture.vsu.edu/calendar.

“Response has been tremendous,” said Wooden. “In fact, because the program covers the fundamentals of record keeping and general business best practices applicable to any farm enterprise, we’ve had more non-FSA borrows take the course than borrowers.” Wooden reported he has received 76 applications since the program was launched, with 46 of those completing the course and receiving certification.

Allen Diggs, a lifelong farmer in Southampton County, enrolled in the VSU Agribusiness and Financial Management Program’s first class June 2015. Upon completion he not only received credit to qualify for and receive an FSA loan, he offered up his own farm, Diggs Brothers, for future program tours. “The information I received from this VSU program went far beyond helping me simply qualify for a loan,” said Diggs. “I learned smart ways to improve my business model and enhance sales, and I’m already starting to see results from new initiatives I started last year.”

An added benefit of the grant is that it offers paid internships to VSU students majoring in agriculture, with a concentration in agribusiness, making them highly competitive in the job market. Up to five student interns a year are paid approximately $10 per hour to assist with program administration. They also are required to be full participants in the Agribusiness and Financial Management Program itself and, in addition, to develop an agricultural business plan that is judged by one of VSU’s accounting professors for viability and sustainability.

Takiyah Walker ’16, a VSU agriculture major who has been taking advantage of the internship opportunity this year, said that largely thanks to this program she already has an employment opportunity lined up after graduation with a USDA branch office in Michigan.

For more information about VSU’s Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program contact Mike Wooden at (804) 691-3263 or mwooden@vsu.edu.

The VSU Agribusiness Production and Financial Management Program is made possible in part with funding from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Farm Credit.

Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law and is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

 

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