The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Farm Service Agency continue to promote measures and policy changes to improve the financial security for new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

Passage of the 2014 Farm Bill provided more opportunities for thousands of farmers and ranchers to begin and continue operations, including greater flexibility in determining eligibility, raising loan limits, and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

Following are several loans targeted at youths and beginning ag producers. Contact your local FSA office for details.

Youth loans

FSA makes loans to help young people establish and operate agricultural income-producing projects in connection with 4-H, FFA and other agricultural groups.

Projects must be planned and operated with the help of the organization adviser, produce sufficient income to repay the loan, and provide practical business and educational experience. The maximum loan amount is $5,000.

Eligibility requirements include:

n Be a U.S. citizen or legal resident alien.

n Ages 10 to 20.

n Comply with FSA’s general eligibility requirements.

n Be unable to get a loan from other sources.

n Conduct a modest income-producing project in a supervised program of work as outlined above.

n Demonstrate the capability to plan, manage and operate the project under guidance and assistance from a project adviser. The project supervisor must recommend the loan applicant, along with providing adequate supervision.

Beginning farmer loans

FSA can provide financing to eligible applicants through direct or guaranteed loans. FSA defines a beginning farmer as a person who:

n Has operated a farm for not more than 10 years.

n Will materially and substantially participate in the operation of the farm.

n Agrees to participate in a loan assessment, borrower training and financial management program sponsored by FSA.

n For direct farm ownership loans, does not own a farm acres that exceed 30 percent of the county’s average size farm.

Additional program information, loan applications and other materials are available at local USDA Service Centers and the website at www.fsa.usda.gov.

Microloan program

FSA developed the microloan program to better serve the unique financial operating needs of beginning, niche and smallest of family farm operations. It also is useful to specialty crop producers and operators of community supported agriculture.

Eligible applicants can apply for up to $50,000 for initial start-up expenses such as hoop houses to extend the growing season, essential tools, irrigation, and annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing and distribution.

2015 acreage reports due

After spring planting, farmers should visit their local FSA offices to call for appointments to submit their 2015 acreage reports. The reports are required to maintain eligibility for many farm program benefits.

It’s important to provide accurate information about crops, intended uses, producer shares and irrigation practices. The information should be consistent between FSA and the crop insurance provider.

The reporting deadlines are:

n July 15, 2015, spring-seeded crops.

n Nov. 15, 2015, fall-seeded crops and perennial forage.

n Jan. 3, 2016, honey.

If a weather-related event makes it impossible to plant an intended crop or causes a planted crop to fail, it is important to file timely claims with FSA and your crop insurance so that field visits may be completed as necessary.

Prevented planted acres must be reported within 15 days of the final planting date for the crop. Failed acres must be reported before disposition of the crop.

Both claims are subject to review and approval by the FSA county committee.

Holders of policies under the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program should note that the acreage reporting date for covered crops is the earlier of the above listed dates or 15 calendar days before crop grazing or harvesting begins.

Again, it’s important to report crop acres to your FSA office to maintain eligibility for program benefits.

Larry Evans is executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency office in Kearney County.

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