Farming’s a tough job, and few people would deny that. And because it’s tough, fewer younger people are becoming farmers and producers. That’s why the Farm Credit System (FCS) has a mandate to lend to young, beginning and small farmers. Short of automating most farms, American agriculture needs young people to become farmers to continue its proud tradition of feeding the country and the world.
But one state is leaps and bounds ahead of others when it comes to young farmers. According to the Portland Press Herald, “Young farmers have taken to Maine like few other places – from 2007 to 2012, the number of Maine farmers under the age of 34 grew by 40 percent, compared to 1.5 percent nationally.” This rapid increase in the number of young farmers has resulted in the establishment of the Maine Harvest Credit Project, which has a pending application before the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
Young farmers in Maine need access to credit, so they’re crowdsourcing funds to establish a local financial institution to serve farmers and food entrepreneurs. If only there were a system of cooperatives that was supposed to lend exclusively to farmers! Even better, if only there were a system with a legal mandate to lend to young farmers!
Young farmers in Maine are trying to establish a farming-focused cooperative parallel to the Farm Credit System. That should tell you that Farm Credit isn’t doing enough to help Maine’s young farmers. And if you asked them, I’m sure Maine’s small and beginning farmers would agree that Farm Credit isn’t doing enough to help them. They wouldn’t be wrong: Farm Credit did an abysmal job of providing credit to young, beginning and small farmers in 2017.
Farm Credit’s presence in Maine is paltry. Farm Credit East operates only two offices for the most agricultural state in New England. And Farm Credit East answers to CoBank, based thousands of miles away in Colorado. What ever happened to local institutions helping local farmers?
Maine’s farmers have had enough, and have reached the point where they’re more willing to create something new than continue working with the same old Farm Credit System. Have Maine’s farmers had enough of being ignored by Farm Credit? Is this the first crack in the damn? When will other states follow suit?
Congress desperately needs to step in if it wants to save Farm Credit in its current form. It needs to drastically overhaul how it does business. And it needs to make sure that it’s helping those it is supposed to help the most: young, beginning and small farmers. If not, they will be forced to find their own way.