A University of Wisconsin-Madison program that teaches aspiring farmers the skills they need to get started has forged a partnership with a federal program that provides financial resources to make those dreams come true.
Under a new agreement, the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers will provide training that's required for borrowers to qualify for loans from the USDA-Farm Services Agency.
The WSBDF is a training and mentoring program offered by the Farm and Industry Short Course and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems in the UW-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
"We are different from other lenders in that we by law are required to provide supervised credit, and the borrower training program is part of that supervision. Most of our applicants are beginning farmers, so we work closely with them to ensure that they have the skills necessary to be successful," explains Ray Ellenberger, farm loan chief in the FSA's Madison office.
The Wisconsin FSA leads the nation in lending to beginning farmers. Its borrowers have two years to get the required training. The goal is to provide them with skills needed to get started and build equity so that they can qualify for commercial sources of credit, Ellenberger explains.
YOUNG FARMER PARTNERS: From left, Ray Ellenberger, farm loan chief, FSA; Ted Halbach, director, Farm and Industry Short Course; and Richard Cates, director, Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. Seated is Robert Ray, Dean, College of Ag and Life Sciences undergraduate programs and services.
"We're here to assist the next generation of the best and brightest to get started farming on our working lands in Wisconsin," says Dick Cates, director of the WSBDF. "Offering our programs to those working with FSA to obtain beginning farmer loans is a privilege, and we are pleased to have earned this opportunity."
The school centers around a 17-week seminar on managing a pasture-based dairy or livestock business. Students can attend the course on the Madison campus or via Webcast at one of six remote classrooms across the state. Volunteer instructors who have successfully started up their own farm enterprises do much of the teaching.
Eighty percent of the nearly 300 students who have completed the course over the past 14 years are now farming, and about half of those own their own business, according the school's surveys.