Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill.
Over the past two decades Congress has set aside loan dollars and set goals to reach beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers within the direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loan programs. Reserving funds for these borrowers helps target these government credit programs to those most in need of credit assistance, ensures that socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers can obtain access to credit, and helps reverse the aging of American agriculture and the loss of land ownership among farmers of color. In addition to loan set asides, Congress has also given beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers a preference in acquiring land out of government inventory and other incentives in applying for conservation and rural development programs.
Learn More About Loan Set Asides!
Direct Farm Ownership Loans: Each year 75 percent of the total direct farm ownership loan funds available are reserved for beginning farmers and ranchers for the first 11 months of the fiscal year (beginning on October 1st). If beginning farmers do not require all of those reserved funds, USDA may use any funds remaining in the final month of the fiscal year to make loans to other qualified borrowers.
Of that 75 percent, two-thirds (i.e., 50 percent of the total) is reserved exclusively for down payment loans and joint financing agreement loans for the first half of the fiscal year. After April 1 of each year, if there are loan funds remaining they may be made available for regular beginning farmer farm ownership loans.
For socially disadvantaged producers, the target participation rate is determined by the percent of total socially disadvantaged people living in a particular county. For instance, if the percentage of African-Americans and other minorities living in County X is 50 percent, then the target participation rate for ownership loans for socially disadvantaged producers living in that county is 50 percent.
For counties within the boundaries of a Native American reservation, the target participation rates are based on a reservation-wide basis.
The target participation rate for women producers, who are included in the definition of socially disadvantaged for credit program purposes, is set based on the percent of women farmers in the state relative to the total number of farmers in that state. Thus, if 8 percent of farmers in State X are women, then the target participation rate is 8 percent. Target participation rates for socially disadvantaged producers are in effect for the entire fiscal year.
Direct Farm Operating Loans: Each year 50 percent of total direct operating loan funds available are reserved for beginning farmers and ranchers for the first 11 months of the fiscal year (beginning October 1st). If beginning farmers do not require all of those reserved funds, USDA may use any funds remaining in the final month of the fiscal year to make loans to other qualified borrowers.
For socially disadvantaged producers, the target participation rate is determined by the percent of socially disadvantaged producers in a state relative to the total number of farmers in that state (this includes all who are defined as socially disadvantaged, including women and members of racial and ethnic minorities). The reserves for socially disadvantaged producers that are not used within a state are made available for socially disadvantaged producers in other states, or are re-pooled within the same state for other purposes.
Guaranteed Farm Ownership and Operating Loans: Each year 40 percent of total loan funds available for guaranteed farm ownership loans and 40 percent of total loan funds available for guaranteed farm operating loans are reserved for beginning farmers and ranchers for the first half of each fiscal year. After April 1 of each year, any unused funds then become available for any type of guaranteed ownership or operating loan.
In each fiscal year, if there are unused guaranteed farm operating loan funds as of August 1, USDA will make those funds available for beginning farmers seeking a down payment real estate loan if appropriated funds for down payment loans are already extinguished. On September 1 of each year, if there are still unused guaranteed operating loan funds available, USDA will make those funds available for any type of beginning farmer ownership loan.
Inventory Property Sales: If the government acquires farmland through foreclosures this “inventory” property is advertised for sale within 15 days of government acquisition. Eligible beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are given first priority to purchase these properties at their appraised market value during the first 135 days the land is on the market. If more than one eligible beginning or socially disadvantaged producer offers to purchase the same property during that period of time, a buyer is chosen at random. USDA may divide or combine inventory properties to maximize new farming opportunities. USDA can also lease the land to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer until such time as funding is available for them to receive a direct farm ownership loan with which to purchase the property. If the 135-day period expires without a buyer, the land is open for public sale to any buyer.
USDA provides special incentives, targeted funding, and priority for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers in many of their loan, conservation, and rural development programs – including these special loan set-asides in their farm loan program. In order to qualify for these additional considerations and priority status, a farmer must meet the following eligibility criteria.
Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: In order to qualify for the priority for “beginning farmers and ranchers” a farmer must, among other things (1) be an individual or entity that has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years, (2) substantially participate in the day-to-day operation of the farm, and (3) in the case of real estate loans, not already own a farm bigger than 30 percent of the average acreage of the farms in the county.
Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: In order to qualify for the priority for “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers”, a farmer must be a member of a socially disadvantaged group, including American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and women. For conservation programs, socially disadvantaged producers do not include women.
Veteran Farmers and Ranchers: In order to qualify for the priority for “veteran farmers or ranchers” a farmer must have served in the Armed Forces, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, including the reserve components thereof. For some loan programs, a veteran must also have operated a farm for ten years or less.
There are additional criteria in order to qualify for a direct or guaranteed farm ownership or operating loan. Refer to the specific loan program to additional eligibility requirements.
Since the creation of these special set-asides, over 200,000 beginning and nearly 88,000 socially disadvantaged farmers have been able to secure farm loans that they otherwise may not have been able to obtain – both through loans made directly or guaranteed by the Farm Service Agency.
Over the past 25 years, FSA has directly provided over $3.4 billion in loan capital to minority and women farmers in every state across the country, and has guaranteed nearly $3.5 billion more.
And over roughly this same time period, FSA has directly provided over $11.6 billion in loan capital to beginning farmers in every state across the country, and has guaranteed nearly $8.6 billion more.
In total, these loans make up over 34 percent of the total loan capital and 55 percent of the total number of loans that FSA has made since the creation of these set-asides.
Read more about how these FSA loan set-asides have helped to increase access to credit for new and minority farmers:
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers funding set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers with the direct and guaranteed loan programs. When applying for a farm loan, either through FSA or a commercial bank, it is the responsibility of the borrower to inform the loan officer that they are a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer in order to receive the priority status. Often, this information will be included in the loan application itself.
To locate your state or county FSA offices, visit the service center locator.
Congress first established target participation rates for farm ownership loans for socially disadvantaged producers in 1987, and the rest of the set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers in 1990 and 1992. The 2008 Farm Bill increased the percentage of loan funds reserved for beginning farmers and ranchers to:
The 2008 Farm Bill also makes socially disadvantaged farmers eligible on a priority basis to purchase inventory property during the same 135-day period of time that beginning farmers are eligible.
The 2014 Farm Bill does not make any changes to the loan set-asides, but does create several new incentives for veteran farmers such as giving priority to veterans within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program, the FSA Microloan Program, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program, and creating a new military agricultural liaison position within USDA.
The amounts available each fiscal year for direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loans are determined by the annual agricultural appropriations bill. In recent years, appropriations had averaged about $575 million and $1.2 billion, respectively, for direct farm ownership and direct farm operating loans. Appropriations for guaranteed farm ownership loans and for guaranteed operating loans have averaged between $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year.
Section 5302 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 amends Section 346(b)(2) of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to increase the beginning farmer loan set aside rates, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 1994 (b)(2), and amends Section 335(c) of the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to add socially disadvantaged farmers to the inventory land sale preference, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 1985.
Last updated in October 2014.